If you had to evacuate your home tomorrow, would your most important documents and personal information be safe and accessible?
Being prepared for the worst -- that includes gathering and protecting your most important papers -- is your best chance for a complete recovery from disaster, whether you’re in the path of a hurricane or you lose your home to storm damage or fire.
The list of documents and records you’ll want to protect is long, ranging from insurance policy information
and estate planning documents
to property records
and financial statements
. If you have limited time -- or patience -- for gathering all your records, focus on the ones that are most important to have on hand at all times and those that are the hardest to replace.
Identification is the single most important type of documentation to protect and take with you.
The documents you gather -- originals and copies -- belong in a safe deposit box
. You can keep this lightweight, locking, fireproof metal box at home or rent a box secured within a vault at your credit union. If you keep it at home, you should consider storing a duplicate box -- with duplicate items -- with a friend, relative, or attorney out of the immediate area. Keep one of the safe deposit box keys in your home evacuation box
. Have someone else hold the second key, along with the box address and an inventory of contents.
You should store the originals of most documents in your safe deposit box and place copies in your home evacuation box and also send copies to your trusted friend or relative. TIP: Do not store your original Will in your safe deposit box, as the box may be legally “sealed” after your death.
While a safe deposit box and home evacuation box are necessary, they have their flaws. A safe deposit box can be inconvenient to keep up to date. And a home evacuation box that’s convenient for you to get to and carry away in an emergency is also a sitting duck for thieves. Or, it could be damaged by water (the reason you should store all contents in sealed plastic bags) or be buried under rubble.
Technology offers some excellent tools to bridge the gap between safety and convenience. From digital cameras and scanners to software and online services, technology makes gathering, copying, storing and updating your important papers and information faster and easier than ever before. Read "Home Inventory Software Helps Prepare for Disaster
There is no guarantee of when you will get online or be able to open a computer file, so be sure to hang on to hard copies of the information you’ll need immediately.
Get the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK), a 23-page workbook offered free by Operation HOPE, FEMA, and Citizen Corps.
Download the companion piece to the EFFAK, the 18-page Personal Disaster Preparedness Guide (PDPG), which allows you to record vital information not covered in the EFFAK and provides additional tips and resources.
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