Sunday, September 04, 2005

Disaster drill for financial documents

What if you have only ten minutes to evacuate your home due to rising flood waters, a terrorist attack, a wildfire or toxic spill? Sure, you round up the family and pets, grab the photo albums and whatever family heirlooms you can carry, but what about your financial documents? What documents can you gather in ten minutes? Or would you even think to grab your important papers at all?

In an emergency situation most of us would be too overwhelmed to think about what documents we will need, or even where they are located. So, consider assembling an evacuation bag that you can grab quickly, kept in a home safe or lockbox that contains sealable plastic bags to protect documents from water. A small backpack is ideal since you may end up walking some distance and need to keep your hands free for other things.

Items to keep in the evacuation bag:
  • Cash
  • Key to your safe deposit box
  • Phone numbers for insurance agents, banks, attorneys and financial advisors
  • Account numbers for bank, credit card and investment accounts
  • Social Security Numbers for all family members
  • Current backup of computer files
  • Last three years tax returns, federal and state
  • Copies of the documents in your safe deposit box (insurance policies, wills, deeds to house and cars and your house inventory)
  • Medical information such as doctors' names and phone numbers, prescriptions, immunization records
  • Phone numbers for family and friends
  • Photocopies of birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates and powers of attorney
Cash is listed first on this list because it can be extremely important in a major disaster. ATMs will be out of service as will credit card machines that rely on phone lines for verification. Cash will be king. In situations where people are on their own for days, black markets erupt up for everything from food and water to blankets and clothing. Be assured that the guy selling toilet paper for twenty bucks a roll doesn't take American Express.

It may not be convenient, but consider keeping your safe deposit box at a bank that is some distance from your home. After all, you don't want it to be under the same flood waters as your home.

Keep credit card balances low or paid off. While this is always a good idea, after a disaster you might need to pay for weeks of living expenses before seeing an insurance check or relief money.

What other financial documents might be useful to have with you in an evacutation?

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