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How to Find Missing Documents: Channeling Your Inner Sherlock Holmes


It’s been a busy season for people (and librarians) wanting to find missing documents, from policies and certificates last seen 40 years ago to ones misplaced last month, from trusts, insurance policies, case files, and beyond.

So, here are some important tips:

1) Don’t panic, not now, and not as you keep crossing possibilities off your list.

2) Start a notebook or just keep a list. Write down your search strategy or at least a list of the places and people you can contact. This list will grow and fill with notes.

3) Keep track of your ideas, the places you’ve checked, the dates you did so, the people you talked to, and the organizations and phone numbers you called.

4) If you’ve hired a lawyer to assist you, please don’t careen off into another direction without first checking if it will harm the search strategy your lawyer has implemented. (And if you’re not happy with your lawyer’s search efforts, deal directly with that too.)

5) Remember: Not all legal documents have to be somewhere, that is, not all legal documents had to have been retained, recorded, or otherwise stored by anyone other than the person who created it.

6) Lawyers don’t always (or necessarily) keep copies of all your important documents, though always ask. (To find the papers from offices of deceased lawyers, contact the Oregon State Bar or the state licensing bar of the state where the documents were filed or recorded.)

7) Where to begin looking, but let your imagination and your intelligence be your guides:

a) Personal Storage: Relatives, home safes, files, friends, neighbors, mattresses, refrigerators, bookshelves, etc.

b) Other: Safe deposit boxes, bank records, lawyers, accountants, title companies, named trustees or beneficiaries or executors or personal representatives, holders of asset records, etc.

c) Official/recorded: County Clerks, for titles and related filings, Courthouses (if there was a case filed), credit reports, business records, etc.

d) Contact a lawyer who can recommend other places to search: Oregon State Bar Information and Referral Service (and read #4 above).

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