We’ve asked Karen Allen, who holds a BA in Psychology, and an MBA in Change Management and Planning, to write an article pertaining to keeping vital documents organized. She is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Life Documents Organizer, and Health Information Organizer. She holds certificates in Chronic Disorganization and is a Notary Public for the State of North Carolina.

For Audio Only: Click Here.


I once asked a client: of all the things on your to-do list, is there one that’s keeping you up at night? Her answer – I’m afraid that if something happens to me, no one will be able to find the important personal information they’ll need to manage the situation on my behalf.  Most of us give little consideration, and less time, to organizing our personal and vital documents and information. A vital document is anything that contains important information about how you manage your life. A “few” examples might include:

  •  Names, Addresses, and Contact Information


  1.  Family members
  2.  Close friends
  3.  Attorneys
  4.  Doctors
  5.  Financial Advisors
  6.  Insurance Agents
  7.  Veterinarians


  •  Financial Institutions

  1.  Bank Branch and manager
  2.  Account list and account numbers, including checking, saving, investments, loans, bill pay, etc.
  3.  Life and property insurance policies
  4.  Safe deposit boxes, keys, and keyholders
  •  Medical Information

  1.  Medical records and contacts
  2.  Health Insurance company, policy numbers and contacts
  3.  Current list of prescriptions
  4.  Immunization records
  •  Personal Information

  1.  Social Security number
  2.  Passports
  3.  Military Service Records
  4.  Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Advanced Healthcare directives
  5.  Tax returns and preparer names
  6. Computer access user names and passwords
  7. Online account user names, passwords, and security questions


As I said, just a “few”……and here are the disturbing facts:

  •  93% of Americans are unprepared for an emergency.
  •  70% do not have wills, powers of attorney or living wills.


What’s so hard about organizing this information?  Well, it’s boring. It takes more time than we think we have.  We think we have the information, but we are not sure where it is – it could be in a desk drawer, a shoebox, a computer, the back of a closet, or under the bed.  Everyday demands take precedence over concern for the long term.

None of those are good excuses.  In our complex society we, and those responsible for us, need to know how to access and put this information to work for us.


So, what does it mean to be prepared? Being prepared means:

  •  Documenting what we have
  •  Knowing where to find it
  •  Consolidating what we have
  •  Specifying who should have access to it and when they should use it.


You don’t want to wait until the moment when the need arises.  A friend decided that she was going to get her affairs in order.  She was young – 49 – but it was just something she wanted to do.  Less than a year later she called: “I have gastric cancer.”  She appointed her brother with powers of attorney, so her family and boyfriend could be with her… not running around trying to figure out her affairs before she died.  She signed her own Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form on her way to the stretcher that would take her to hospice where she died shortly after.

I work to help you identify, collect and organize required documents, and to research lost, overlooked, and missing data. I work hand in hand with professional agents – including attorneys, accountants, executors, doctors, financial advisors, and insurance companies – on behalf of you, their clients.


Here’s an Emergency Evacuation “Grab and Go” List:

For a Printable List: Click Here
  • _____ Select your “Grab & Go” system. It should be portable, durable, waterproof/water-resistant and fireproof/fire-resistant. Important papers should be sealed in waterproof bags, or within a system that is waterproof.
  • _____ Decide where to store your Grab & Go box/bag. The location should be secure yet easily accessible and known to all family members. Once you take it with you keep it with you and do not leave it unattended!
  • _____ Make a list of all of the things you need to take with you that cannot fit in a Grab & Go box/bag or which are in a Safe deposit Box or other location (put this list in your Grab & Go box/bag)
  • _____ Include the following contents in your “Grab & Go” box/bag:
  • _____ A summary of your evacuation plan and plan for communicating and meeting up with family/friends
  • _____ Important contacts (name/phone/emails): family members/close friends; insurance agent(s) & insurance company(s) headquarters; bank(s)/financial advisor(s); physician(s); Vet; pharmacist(s); attorney(s); local government agencies & shelters; Red Cross; clergy/church members; neighbors, homeowners association or community association board members; other.
  • _____ Cash, including change for tolls, for one (1) week of living expenses. Traveler’s checks are a good option.
  • _____ Medical: copies of all health, dental and prescription cards/numbers, including Medicare/Medicaid; list of all prescriptions and OTC meds that you need to take with you; copy of immunization records (kids); list of important medical history and allergies
  • _____ Insurance: list of all insurance company names, contacts and policy numbers; copies of auto, homeowners, renters, flood, etc policies (recommend they be scanned and put on flash drive)
  • _____ Financial: list of banks/investment firms and account numbers; list of debts, loan #s, due dates & contact information of lenders (including mortgage); list of vendors whom you pay regularly (utilities; phone company; alarm company; etc), contacts and account numbers
  • _____ Lists of Important Information: location of safe deposit box; combination to safe(s); computer user names and passwords
  • _____ Originals/Copies of Important Documents (consider scanning and putting all copies on flash drive or compact disc): social security card; passport, driver’s license and other forms of identification; credit/debit cards (front & back); military service records; insurance cards; deeds/titles; estate planning and advance directives – wills/trusts, living will, durable power of attorney; healthcare directives; stock/bond certificates; recent bank & investment statements; last 2 years of tax returns (first 2 pages sufficient); employee benefit documents; home inventory (ideal to have pictures/video); birth, adoption, marriage, divorce certificates;
  • _____ Photographs: negatives or flash drive of special photographs
  • _____ Jewelry and other small treasures


Karen can be reached by phone: 919-345-8997 or email: [email protected].