A few simple tips to protect your private info

It’s good to be conscientious and to be clear in your writing. However, you should also keep security in mind.   

Years ago, it was common to include complete Social Security Numbers in important legal documents such as powers of attorney, wills, and the like.  These documents then might be filed in the county records.   Then along came identity theft.   A few years ago the Texas county and district clerks began “redacting” (blacking over) the identifying information that was available to the public and made people vulnerable to theft.  
Times have changed. Keep in mind the following tips when you are drafting, storing or using legal documents.

1.       If you don’t need to give the identifying information, don’t.   We often have clients request that we include their entire social security number, passport number, or driver’s license number on important documents that we are drafting for them. When we ask “why”, we find that the clients are doing this “for identification purposes”.  This usually isn’t necessary. For instance, if the intended audience for your document is your family (your will), your doctor (your health care documents), or your bank (your power of attorney), they already know who you are.   You can put your address and the last 3 digits of the identifying number and that will serve the purpose just as well.  A document can be used along with the production of a actual picture I.D. to whoever is examining it.
2.       Don’t file things in the county records that don’t need to be there.   For instance, a will is valid whether it is filed there or not and most people don’t need to file theirs (in rare circumstances it may be advisable).  You especially do not want to file something in the county record that has detailed information about bank and investment accounts, and includes the full account numbers and institutions.  Ditto for any document that contains a listing of “my valuable property” along with where it is stored.
3.       If you are filing something “for public record” it is just that, public record. 
4.       Don’t leave these types of documents lying around where anyone can see them.Keep all your important documents in a safe place, accessible to you, and to your family member(s) or business associate(s) who “need to know”. 
Now, there are times when you may be required to divulge certain information of a private nature.  But don’t be afraid to ask your doctor, lawyer, accountant or realtor why such information is needed and where, how and for how long it will be stored.  Give only as much information as needed.
Following these tips will help you have better control over who sees your personal information.
 
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