They say that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Yet, so many people are unprepared for not only these eventualities but many others in between: home sales, international travel, hospital or nursing home admission, and others.

Such life events as retirement, moving, or applying for social security payments require excellent record keeping. To make things easier for yourself and loved ones, take a look at the documents you should always have handy in case the need arises.

It’s not enough to just have these documents. They should also be accessible in case someone has to help you take care of business in the areas of your health, finances, or even final arrangements.

Estate planning attorney of Golden Law, Shanita Straw recommends a few other ways to keep important documents safe. “Originals can either be held by the attorney who drafted them or in a safe deposit box,” she said. If that’s not an option, Shanita gives an alternative. “Buy a small water and fireproof safe to keep in the closet or some place safe in your home.”

Make copies and, if possible, keep electronic versions of this important paperwork. Then, give access to those you’ve designated to help manage your estate in the case that you are unable to or need assistance.

Valid ID

Having a valid ID seems like a simple enough request but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to misplace an ID or not keep it updated.

Make sure that you have originals and copies of the following types of identification:

  • State ID or driver’s license (not expired)
  • Social Security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Passport

Insurance Policies

You may have one or more insurance policies. Insurance policies are like money. Losing them could be like losing money! This makes it even more important to keep them up-to-date and organized should you have questions or need to use them.

Common insurance documents include:

  • Health insurance
  • Car insurance
  • Life/burial insurance
  • Homeowner’s/renter’s insurance

Vital Records

Are you or were you ever married? Is a loved one, such as a spouse, deceased? At times, these records are needed for miscellaneous events including ownership transfer, social security applications, or pension disbursements to beneficiaries.

Even if you eventually divorced or your partner is no longer living, keep these records around just in case:

  • Marriage license
  • Death certificate
  • Divorce decree

Estate Documents

It can sound daunting to gather up documents pertaining to your estate, but there are many online resources to help you draw up and execute them. Having an attorney help you is ideal but if this is not possible, DIY versions can work in a pinch:

  • Last will and testament
  • Living will
  • Financial Power of Attorney
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
  • Consent for Release of Information/HIPAA

Property Documents

If you own assets that require a title (for example: a house, car or other vehicles), make sure you have the title proving your ownership. If there are problems with these documents, it can cause issues down the line, especially when trying to pass property on to heirs. Things to keep handy include:

  • Car title and registration
  • House deed
  • Home appraisals
  • Home maintenance records, including contracts and warranties on labor/materials

Financial Documents

There are also a number of financial documents that you should always have on hand:

  • Mortgage documents
  • Tax returns
  • Recent credit reports
  • Pension and 401K
  • Credit card and bank statements
  • List of online accounts plus related passwords

Hopefully, this quick rundown gives you an idea of the types of documents you’ll need to have accessible at all times. If gathering all of these documents seems overwhelming, ask a friend or loved one to help in the process. After all, life is meant to be enjoyed and not spent foraging for documents under duress. Once you take care of this important business, you’ll be glad you finally did it.

Aja McClanahan is a freelance writer and owner of