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Disaster Can Strike Any Time—Here's How to Make Sure Your Most Crucial Documents Stay Safe

Lisa Ferber@lisaferber

Welcome to Day 14 of our 30-Day Easy Money Makeover! Every day in April, we’re bringing you strategies to help you improve, and feel more confident about, your money situation. Follow along and see the rest of the calendar here.

You can’t predict when disaster will strike. But taking time to collect and securely store key financial documents can help you recover.

You may have recently put hands on some important papers on Day 6 when you did your home inventory. (And if you’re first joining us now, take the time to Marie Kondo your paperwork and only keep the essentials.)

The Red Cross, ASPCA, and Insurance Information Institute all consider securing your records a must. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, which focuses on financial preparedness for disasters, starts by asking people to collect important financial documents and contacts.

Here are the key pieces to collect and store together:

Insurance Records

Having these handy will help you file a claim quickly:

  • Copy of a recent home inventory
  • Home and auto insurance policies
  • Specialty policies for possessions like jewelry or art
  • Contact information for your insurer and agent

Medical Details

If you need to evacuate, the Red Cross advises packing a seven-day supply of all medications and supplies, plus:

  • Prescriptions
  • Important medical records

“Your doctor and pharmacy will have your medical records and prescriptions, but they may be unreachable, at least initially, after a disaster,” says Neal Stern, CPA member of the American Institute of CPAs’ National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “You may need the information right away if you or a loved one are injured.”

Pet Records

A recent photo of your pet (in case of separation after a disaster) is a smart choice, says the ASPCA, as well as:

  • Copies of your pet’s medical records
  • Up-to-date identification tags for your pet’s collar and carrier

Important Documents

Create an easy-grab packet with any documents that might be hard to replace, including:

  • Deed or lease to your home
  • Wills
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Passports (while you’re at it, check the expiration dates)
  • Driver’s licenses (ditto here)

Passport replacement can take up to a couple of months. “With everything you have to think about after a disaster, this may not be at the top of your list, and you don’t want to discover that it’s been lost or destroyed when your international business or vacation travel date is approaching,” says Stern. He cautions that only original passports are acceptable, so you should keep this somewhere safe.

Cash

Remember to put some cash in this folder too. Power outages might stop you from using an ATM or credit card machine, so it helps to have some bills readily accessible.

Storage

Once you have those key documents, it’s time to think about where to stash them. “Consider keeping copies of these records in secure online cloud storage that you can access from your computer or smartphone if disaster strikes,” says Stern. For the paper originals, a watertight, fire-protected safe should do the trick.

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