AT YOUR OWN RISK                                                               

Valuable Papers & Records    
How To Organize Your Insurances Files

by Peter Schlactus, CIC, AAI                             [ Back To Table Of Contents ]

Any decent office insurance policy should include at least s6me coverage for reconstructing "valuable papers & records." This 
protection would apply to - among others - your insurance policies. The alarming fact is that the insurance records of most 
businesses require substantial "reconstruction'' even without a fire, flood, or computer crash.

Insurance files are important documents and the prudent business will not treat them like an indoor compost heap.

The Case for Care

Does it really matter if your insurance records are disorganized and vulnerable to loss?

What if you want a second opinion on your insurance? What if your carrier drops you and you need to turn to another broker for 
help -- fast!

What if you have a loss and get into a dispute with the insurance company, the adjuster, your agent, or all of the above? How do 
you protect yourself without records?

Worse yet, what if an old loss surfaces after several years and you no longer use the same carrier or agent? What if your previous 
agent has gone out of business? Insurance companies do not keep policy records readily accessible for years, and the burden of 
proof is on you to show there was coverage in force at the time of the loss.

Insurance is simply a written contract. Cynics would say that, like other contracts, insurance is "worth the paper it's printed on." 
Well, if you can't even find the paper, then what is it worth?

The Challenge

The problem for most businesses is: how to stay on top of your insurance when you may not understand it well, and without 
spending too much time on the project.

The solution is pure common sense. Familiarize yourself with the basic types of insurance documents (see below). Then set up 
files once - right now - in a way that makes them easy to maintain. Finally, keep your records in a safe place to guard against loss.

Insurance Documents

Organizing Your Files

Our goal is a simple yet accurate filing system that is easy to update and to purge. Remember that, like exercise, the toughest 
part will be the beginning. The system described below lets you reuse many folders for years. Once you sort through the current 
mess, it's gone (with luck) forever!

For the sake of simplicity let us imagine a filing cabinet with hanging files inside of which are manila folders. You may choose to 
use binders, accordion files, or other means but the organizing principles will be the same.

I recommend that you set up your files into three sections: POLICIES, CERTIFICATES/SCHEDULES, & LOSSES. Each section 
will involve more than one hanging file. Using different-colored hanging files, you can distinguish between the three sections 
at a glance without additional labeling.

POLICIES SECTION: Set aside a hanging file for each policy type. Keep extras handy in case you decide to purchase a new type 
of insurance. Label each hanging file with the type of policy, e.g. "Auto," "General Liability," or "Workers Comp."

Take the time to have labels typed or printed. Neatness in set\-ting up will promote neatness later on.

Prepare three manila folders for each hanging file. Label them with the policy type and a suffix: "Policy/Binder," "Endorsements," 
and "Correspondence." Again it is a good idea to use color-coding. For example, all of the "Endorsement" folders could be yellow, 
but each would reference its own policy type.

Prepare two hanging files for expired policies. Label one, "Expired Property" and the other, "Expired Liability." As we shall see you 
should treat these two categories differently. Place some unlabeled folders (use a new color) in each.

CERTIFICATES/SCHEDULES SECTION: Since both of these documents provide information on multiple policies, they should be 
kept separate from your individual policy files.

Each should require only one hanging file and one manila folder labeled, "Certificates" and "Schedules" respectively. In the 
Certificates file you may wish to prepare a separate manila folder for "Customer Specs." so that you can save the insurance 
specifications your customers give to you.

LOSSES SECTION: Set up three hanging files: "Property Losses," "Liability Losses," and "Work. Comp. Losses." Each hanging 
folder should be well-endowed with its own set (and color) of folders. No need to label them yet. Each folder will be used for a 
particular claim. A fourth hanging file should be labeled, "Loss Runs," and sport a single manila folder. If you have any frequency 
of claims, you should designate a fifth hanging file for "Dead Claims."

Using Your Files

The policy folders should make filing easy. Normally the first thing you will receive is a binder. Once the policy arrives you can 
slip it into the same folder. "Policy" folders are good places to jot down notes on phone conversations you have with your agent.

As policy endorsements come in, place them consistently in the back of their folder. This way, you preserve their chronological order.

When a policy renews, simply combine the contents of all folders into a single expired folder. Label the folder with policy type and 
year and store in the appropriate expired file until purged. Now your policy folders are empty and ready to receive the new policy 

Certificates and schedules can be dropped into their designated folders as you receive them during the course of the year. It is a 
good idea to mark certificates that you know you will need again the following year. Upon renewal, review the necessary certificates 
with your agent.

Finally, for every loss or claim set up a manila folder in the appropriate hanging file. The folder's label should display the loss date, 
the date you learned of the loss, the policy type, and the person involved (if any). As documents and correspon
dence flow, place 
copies in the folder. Notes on phone conversations and the like can be written directly onto the folder. Try to be consistent about 
placing all new items in the back so that chronological order is maintained.

If you believe a claim has been fully settled and want to reduce clutter in your main files, move the folder to the "Dead Claims" file 
to await purging.

As for Loss Runs, these are immensely useful to have and an annoyance to reorder. The easiest thing to do is label the loss run right 
away when you receive it. Indicate the insurance company name, the type or types of policies, and the policy year or years covered.
If you wait, it becomes notoriously difficult - even for agents - to decipher the lingo and abbreviations used on loss runs.

Purging Your Files

Here is where the distinction we have made between property and liability files comes into play. Treat as "property" insurance policies 
that protect against loss of your property only. Treat everything else as "liability,'' whether or not it is in a strict sense. When in doubt, 
treat as liability.

Generally speaking, you need to hold onto "liability" files much longer because it may take years for you to be served notice of a loss. 
Also, liability claims can flare back to life after a long period of dormancy. With "property" claims, you normally learn about and settle 
losses fairly quickly.

Now let's examine each file in turn. Expired Property policies need not be kept longer than one year after they expire. During this time 
they may be useful mainly for comparative purposes. Expired Liability policies should be kept for at least six years after termination, 
depending on your state's statute of limitations.

Certificates may be discarded at the end of each policy year to make room for the new batch. You can treat Schedules of Insurance 
similarly, but you may wish to keep a few years' worth since they take up little space and give you a broad view of your insurance over 

A good rule of thumb for losses is to keep Property Losses for four years, and Liability and Workers Comp. Losses for six years. 
Start counting from the time you learn of the loss.

Loss Runs should be kept for five years, counting from the most recent policy expiration. Make it a practice to purge all files once 
a year when your policies renew. Also, use these guidelines to purge your current insurance records before sorting outdated documents 
into your brand-new file system.

Pre-Prepared Insurance Binders 

A warning about agent-provided insurance binders: touted as a value-adding service by some firms, these binders often grow rapidly 
obsolete and become counterproductive.

Prepared insurance binders may display your policies handsomely, but not leave room for endorsements, schedules, certificates, loss 
runs, etc. Over time your files will tend to revert to a Jekyll & Hyde combination of neat binder plus disorganized jumble. As your policies 
are amended and losses occur, the binder will be worthless without the rest.

Thank your agent politely for the thoughtfulness. Then file the policies in your own system. Don't worry about your agent taking offense. 
On the contrary, he or she will be grateful if needed records can be retrieved efficiently.

Safeguarding Your Records

Keeping your insurance records away from the premises is one obvious way to protect yourself. You will never have to worry about 
losing both the insurance and the property that insurance is protecting.

The drawback of course is that you lose easy access to the records for filing and in case of a loss or inquiry. Perhaps a better strategy 
is to keep your records in the office, but protect them from fire, smoke, flood, and sprinkler leakage.

A fire-proof safe works well, especially if you use free-standing (e.g. accordion) files or binders. At a minimum, keep records enclosed 
in a secure cabinet well off the floor. Make sure someone other than yourself knows where your files are to facilitate rapid evacuation 
if necessary.


Your insurance file is composed of valuable papers and records that should be kept organized and protected against loss. Having 
well-maintained insurance records can pay tremendous dividends in many cases and contingencies.

Once you are familiar with the basic types of insurance documents, it is possible to set up an inexpensive insurance filing system 
that is easy to maintain. A properly designed system will provide a place for all documents and facilitate ease of use over time.

Following a few simple rules you can purge your file each year to avoid storing unnecessary records. Keep in mind, however, 
that most businesses do not keep insurance records long enough.

Finally, safeguard your investment -- in every sense of the word by keeping your records as safe and secure as possible without 
sacrificing needed access.

Congratulations! You have tamed the monster. Now sit back and enjoy your well-earned peace-of-mind. Not only are you protected 
by insurance, but also your insurance is protected.

Peter Schlactus, a Certified Insurance Counselor and  Accredited Advisor in Insurance, is Co-President of KBS International Corp., which provides specialized  insurance programs, benefits, and  risk management services to courier companies and executives nationwide. Mr. Schlactus is available to answer inquiries  at 1-888-KBS-4321 or via e-mail at

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