Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Preparing for the Unpredictable and Inevitable: Checklist of must have Documents!

They say nothing is certain but death and taxes. but that does not mean that one cannot be prepared.
In today’s fast paced and unpredictable world, there is no saying what happens when to whom. Especially after I had a child I realized it is important to always be prepared for the worst. In addition, it is important to be prepared with all sorts of documentation that may come in handy in various circumstances. Here is a list of documents that may be useful to maintain for everyone in India!

  • Banking account details: These days all of us have at least one bank account. Be it a joint account or an add on credit card, prepare a document with details of all bank accounts, debit/credit cards, fixed deposits and other investments, loans; nominee/ balance/EMI details, branches and contact persons. Also maintain a file of latest 6 statements at least for each account. This is good to maintain for applying for loans, visas, new jobs, investments or paying taxes.
  • Insurance details: It is advised to insure everything possible, including debit/credit cards, or gadgets to be prepared for any loss or damage. Prepare a document with details of each insurance policy (life/medical/general/auto/property etc.), along with nomination, premium and other information. Keep the main policy/registration documents safely, also retain all receipts of payments made. This is useful for calculating tax liabilities and claiming partial or final settlements in case of accident/illness/death etc.
  • Birth, Marriage, Divorce and Death Certificates: It is mandatory by the Indian Government for all Indian nationals to register births, marriages and deaths. Birth certificates serve as age proof during admissions, travel, marriage, etc. Death certificates are important for cash and asset transfers, closure of accounts etc. on demise. Marriage certificates come in handy for passport and visa documentation, divorce decrees are mandatory when filing for remarriage.
  • Electronic and Social Media accounts: Whether it be the username and password for financial instruments, utilities payments, e-commerce websites, social media platforms or any other clubs which require you to register for access, maintain a document with user Ids and passwords, although it is best to have passwords memorized. Also remember to periodically change and update passwords to reduce risk of hacking. While you may maintain online accounts and payments system, do not forget to retain properly all physical bills, receipts, agreements, deeds, policies and other documents carefully.
  • Retirement funds, Assets and Income tax details: If you get gratuity, provident fund, pension etc. from your employer, it is always good to have information on your account numbers, contact details for various offices and knowledge on partial or full withdrawal procedure in case you need for any emergency.  Same goes for taxation – always file taxes yearly irrespective of income, and maintain hard and soft copies of returns. They come in handy in many instances, like visa application for travel abroad, buying property etc. Lastly, have a document which precisely lists down details of all your assets, be it property or cash or financial instruments or bullion or jewelry, and keep updating the same. Having all this information ready can be useful when buying/selling/gifting/transferring assets.
  • Medical heath details and records of self and family: our lifestyle these days guarantees everyone suffering from some or the other disease or allergy. Whether it be a new born, a child, an adult or an old person, it is imperative to maintain medical history and records of all family members, and ensure everyone memorizes most important details about each other, like allergies, blood groups, chronic diseases, surgical history. It is advised to store soft copies as well in case physical copies are lost or compromised.
  • Will and Power of Attorney: Probably the most depressing of all documents, one should have a living will maintained and updated regularly. One never knows when tragedy strikes and you are left seriously ill, paralyzed or dead, unable to take care of your affairs. Many will formats are available online; one can easily fill it up, register it and store it for use further. It is also suggested even if you do not have a business or property you still get a PoA made so that you can give charge to one person to handle all financial, legal, personal affairs in your absence due to any emergency.
  • Educational and Professional Degrees and Certificates: It is important to retain the physical copies of all the degrees an certificates you amass throughout your academic and professional career, as they are required for further admissions, job applications etc. they also serve as proof of your skills, especially when you apply to work or settle abroad. The Class 10 certificate also serves as age proof.
  • Personal documents: Last but not the least, in fact the most important set of documents one must maintain is Personal documents issued to citizens by various government agencies for various purposes, which usually serve as ID, address and age proofs. Examples are: Passport, Driving License, Voter ID card, Aadhaar Card, PAN card, Ration card. In addition, depending on your employment, you may have additional cards certifying your membership in professional societies or institutions. For students and Govt/Private employees, they must also carry their identification cards.

For all the documents you have, it is important to maintain all possible physical copies and scan them to keep soft copies as well as backup. It is advised to not store passwords, but memorize them. All physical documents should be kept together in one location, but a copy must be kept in a separate location as well. All important information must be shared with at least one close family member like spouse/parents/siblings/children who can manage your affairs if required. Utmost care must be taken to keep all documents and information safe and secure. It may seem like an impossible task to do all this at the outset, but in the end the effort will be worth it, as you will be prepared to face whatever challenge life throws at you, with minimum disruption or problems!