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How To Protect Valuable Documents By Scanning

James W. Martin

My law office has been scanning documents for years, but only recently has available technology provided the ability to scan thousands of pages of valuable documents as images on a portable storage device. While the Apple iPod has drawn consumer attention to technology’s advanced ability to store thousands of songs on a device no larger than a deck of playing cards, the truly marvelous fact for lawyers and everyone else who depend on paper documents for their daily lives is that the scanned digital images of valuable documents can also be stored on a similar device: external hard drive, CD, DVD, or flash memory USB drive. Waterproof USB drives are now available, too.


All the valuable paper documents that people depend on to run their business and personal lives can be scanned as digital images (usually, TIFF or PDF files) and stored in multiple, easy-to-reach places as online files on computers, portable devices and distant backup web sites. All of this can be done quickly and for a reasonable cost.


The 2005 hurricane season focused media attention on the value of scanning legal documents and other important documents. Here are links to some of the articles:


– How to prepare for one really quick getaway (NY Times)
– Hope for the best, prepare for the worst (The Street)
– The digital storage solution (Washington Post)
– Preserving the paper trail (MSNBC)
– 5 ways to save your papers in a natural disaster (MSN)


See the Appendix below for a checklist of documents to scan.


Hurricane Andrew a decade ago and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year reminded us of the importance of preserving and protecting valuable papers, not only for heirs in case of death, but also in case of natural disaster. A return to the natural routines of daily living is quicker for those who maintain digital image copies of their personal and business records on a portable hard drive or a backup web site.


James W. Martin is a probate, real estate, and corporate lawyer in St. Petersburg, who has written for the Florida Bar Journal and News, ALI-ABA Practical Lawyer, and West Publishing, and has more information on his Web site, www.jamesmartinpa.com.

Appendix A

IMPORTANT DOCUMENT SCANNING CHECKLIST

In order to plan for your personal and business asset protection in case of hurricane, death, disability, or other unexpected circumstances, the following documents can be scanned as digital images (TIFF or PDF) onto CD, DVD, flash memory USB drive, portable/external hard drive, or other digital media to keep in a safe and secure place that is readily accessible:

Estate Plan
Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, designations of health care surrogate, declarations of preneed guardian, living wills

Financial
Check registers, deposit lists, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, monthly bills, recurring payments, Quicken and Microsoft Money printouts

Investments
Bank statements, broker statements, mutual fund statements, stock and bond certificates

Insurance
Homeowner, flood, auto, umbrella, life, health, dental, disability, professional liability

Real Estate
Deeds, closing statements, closing files, contracts, title insurance policies, surveys, appraisals, notes, mortgages, loan documents, home improvement records, photographs, videos

Tangible Property
Receipts, appraisals, photos, insurance and inventory of jewelry, art, furs, collections, contents of real estate, and other valuables

Taxes
Income tax returns, real estate taxes, homestead exemption, other taxes

Vehicles
Title certificates, tag registrations, window stickers, manuals, invoice and purchase documents, loan documents, photos, insurance

Children
Birth records, inoculation records, prescriptions, medical/dental records, fingerprints, report cards, evaluations, school records, test scores, awards, teacher notes, color photos, videos, audio recordings

Consumer
Warranties, manuals, sales receipts

Debts
Credit card statements, loan documents, loan statements

Family History
Birth certificates, marriage licenses, marriage certificates, property settlement agreements, dissolutions of marriage, prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, death certificates, probate records, family trees, family records, family photos

Medical & Dental
Medicine prescriptions, eyeglass and contacts prescriptions, inoculation records, explanations of benefits, medical histories, medical and dental care providers, insurance

Pets
Pedigrees, birth records, medical records, license tags, inoculation records, photos

Photos & Videos
Family, friends, vacations, home, property, vehicles, insurance inventory, color, black & white

Personal
Address books, fingerprints, correspondence, club memberships, gym memberships, military service, diplomas, transcripts, certificates, awards, news clippings, memorabilia, keepsakes, family recipes

Wallet/Purse
Driver licenses, credit cards, debit cards, ID cards, checks, membership cards, addresses, medical insurance, auto insurance, traveler checks, AAA, voter ID, passport

Business
Corporate minute books, check registers, deposit lists, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, monthly bills, recurring payments, financial records, property records, employee records, substantive business information records, computer software lists, pension and profit sharing plan records

Estate Plan
Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, designations of health care surrogate, declarations of preneed guardian, living wills
Financial
Check registers, deposit lists, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, monthly bills, recurring payments, Quicken and Microsoft Money printouts
Investments
Bank statements, broker statements, mutual fund statements, stock and bond certificates
Insurance
Homeowner, flood, auto, umbrella, life, health, dental, disability, professional liability
Real Estate
Deeds, closing statements, closing files, contracts, title insurance policies, surveys, appraisals, notes, mortgages, loan documents, home improvement records, photographs, videos
Tangible Property
Receipts, appraisals, photos, insurance and inventory of jewelry, art, furs, collections, contents of real estate, and other valuables
Taxes
Income tax returns, real estate taxes, homestead exemption, other taxes
Vehicles
Title certificates, tag registrations, window stickers, manuals, invoice and purchase documents, loan documents, photos, insurance
Children
Birth records, inoculation records, prescriptions, medical/dental records, fingerprints, report cards, evaluations, school records, test scores, awards, teacher notes, color photos, videos, audio recordings
Consumer
Warranties, manuals, sales receipts
Debts
Credit card statements, loan documents, loan statements
Family History
Birth certificates, marriage licenses, marriage certificates, property settlement agreements, dissolutions of marriage, prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, death certificates, probate records, family trees, family records, family photos
Medical & Dental
Medicine prescriptions, eyeglass and contacts prescriptions, inoculation records, explanations of benefits, medical histories, medical and dental care providers, insurance
Pets
Pedigrees, birth records, medical records, license tags, inoculation records, photos
Photos & Videos
Family, friends, vacations, home, property, vehicles, insurance inventory, color, black & white
Personal
Address books, fingerprints, correspondence, club memberships, gym memberships, military service, diplomas, transcripts, certificates, awards, news clippings, memorabilia, keepsakes, family recipes
Wallet/Purse
Driver licenses, credit cards, debit cards, ID cards, checks, membership cards, addresses, medical insurance, auto insurance, traveler checks, AAA, voter ID, passport
Business
Corporate minute books, check registers, deposit lists, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, monthly bills, recurring payments, financial records, property records, employee records, substantive business information records, computer software lists, pension and profit sharing plan records
Here is a list of valuable documents to scan to digital format such as PDF for protection from hurricanes and other loss.

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