An important part of building a kit is to include copies of important documents that can help you be prepared financially for emergency situations. When disaster strikes, having your financial documents in order will help sustain your family during the emergency and streamline the recovery process. You may not be able to do everything suggested below - and that's okay. Do what you can. Taking even limited action now will go a long way toward preparing you financially before a disaster strikes.
Buy a lockable, durable box to grab in the event of an emergency. You don't have to wait until you have a special box - even a cardboard box will do to get started. Put important documents in sealed, waterproof plastic bags. Store the box in your home where you can easily get to it. Keep this box with you if you are away from home for an extended period, but don't leave it in an unattended vehicle.
- A small amount of cash in small denominations and/or traveler's checks.
- Copies of driver's licenses and social security cards.
- A list of emergency contacts that includes doctors, financial advisors, reputable repair contractors and family members who live outside your area.
- Copies of important prescriptions for medicines and eyeglasses, and copies of children's immunization records.
- Copies of health, dental or prescription insurance cards or information.
- Copies of your auto, flood, renter's or homeowner's insurance policies (or at least policy numbers), and a list of insurance company telephone numbers.
- A flash drive with digital copies of irreplaceable photographs (or film negatives protected in plastic sleeves).
- Backups of computerized financial records.
- A list of bank account, loan, credit card and investment account (brokerage and mutual funds) numbers.
- Safe deposit box key.
- Copies of other important financial and family records or a list of their locations. These include deeds, titles, wills, a letter of instruction, birth and marriage certificates, passports, relevant employee benefit documents, the first two pages of the previous year's federal and state income tax returns, etc. Originals, other than wills, should be kept in a safe deposit box or at another location.
After a disaster, you may need cash for the first few days, or even several weeks. A disaster can shut down local ATMs and banks. Keep a small amount of cash and/or traveler's checks at home in a place where you can quickly get to them, such as in your evacuation box. Money should be in small denominations including a couple rolls of quarters.
Set aside money in an emergency fund. This can be difficult to do on a tight budget, but can be well worth the effort. The fund can be very helpful, not only in a disaster, but in other financial crises as well. Keep your emergency funds in a safe, easily accessible account, such as a passbook savings or money market account.
Try to keep your credit cards paid off. You may have to draw on them to tide you over.
Consider Renting a Safe Deposit Box
Safe deposit boxes are invaluable for protecting originals of important documents. If you don't have a safe deposit box, keep copies in your evacuation box and originals at a separate location, such as with family or friends. Home safes and fire boxes can be convenient places to store important papers. However, some disasters, such as hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, could destroy your home. It is usually better to store original papers in a safe deposit box or at another location that is not likely to be affected by the same disaster. Keep the key to the safe deposit box in your evacuation box.
Original Documents to Store in a Safe Deposit Box
- Deeds, titles and other ownership records for your home, autos, RVs, boats, etc.
- Birth certificates and naturalization papers.
- Marriage license/divorce papers and child custody papers.
- Passports and military/veteran papers.
- Appraisals of expensive jewelry and heirlooms.
- Certificates for stocks, bonds and other investments.
- Trust agreements.
- Living wills, powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney.
- Insurance policies (copies are sufficient).
- Home improvement records.
- Household inventory documentation.
- Copies of wills. Originals of wills should not be kept in a safe deposit box since the box may be sealed temporarily after death. Keep originals of wills with your local registrar of wills or your attorney.
Professional Advice May be Necessary
Depending on your situation, you may need the advice of a professional financial advisor. There is free financial counseling available when a disaster occurs, or you may want to hire your own professional advisor. When selecting a financial advisor, ask for recommendations from family or friends, or contact the Oregon Society of CPAs at 1-800-255-1470 or www.orcpa.org for professionals in your area.