Don’t let your family record system get out of hand

Use a variety of tools to help create and manage your family record system.

A family record system for important papers is a must! Knowing where things are can save you precious time and money. Since every family is unique, design your family record system to meet the needs of your situation. Once in place, a key to managing your family record system is knowing what documents to keep, and for how long.

What should be in a family record system? A great place to start is to review the Organizing Your Important Papers checklist from the MSU Extension Starting Over After Foreclosure Toolkit. This document lists typical important papers that a family may have and then offers suggestions on where to store them. A few examples include:

  • Emergency contact information – store in your wallet.
  • Master list of important papers – keep with an attorney or trusted relative or friend.
  • Bills to be paid – store in your “Current Important Papers” section of your family record system.
  • Records that need to be saved – store in the “Permanent Important Papers” section of your family record system.

(Tip: To generate this list, consider using the Road Map for Important Papers worksheet from the MSU Extension Starting Over After Foreclosure Toolkit).

  • Birth Certificates, adoption papers, marriage certificates, etc. – store in a safe deposit box

(Tip: To learn more about safety deposit boxes, visit the following article: Understanding safe deposit boxes: Part 1).

What organizational tools could families consider when designing a family record system? There are numerous options, but here are a few ideas:

  1. Agree on a family record system location for “current” and “permanent papers”: i.e. a file cabinet, plastic tote, etc. Consider potential issues such as water-damage, fire, etc.
  2. To make finding documents easier, use color coded file folders to separate topics, years, etc.
  3. Agree who will oversee and maintain the family record system and create a schedule for regular filing and annual purging of documents you no longer need.

What important documents need to be saved and for how long? The How Long to Keep Important Documents handout from the MSU Extension Starting Over After Foreclosure Toolkit provides families with a user friendly grid that highlights what documents should be saved for 30 days, one year or more, seven years and permanently. This handout will assist in maintaining your family record system.

For additional resources on keeping family records visit

Michigan State University Extension has released a new toolkit for homeowners who are experiencing or have previously experienced foreclosure. This toolkit will equip these individuals and families with tools to help them recover their financial stability, in the case that a recovery of their home is not possible. The toolkit is available to download free at

For a variety of financial resources, including how to assess your financial health visit Michigan State University Extension. In addition, Michigan State University Extension offers money management and homeownership classes. For more information about classes offered in your area visit MI Money Health.  

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