From headline-grabbing tsunamis, hurricanes and wildfires that wipe out entire towns, to floods and electrical fires that affect a single home, disasters are a fact of life. While nobody wants to experience one of these events firsthand, everybody should be prepared to recover from one should the unthinkable happen. Here we offer some tips that will not only help you get your financial house back in order, but will also help you rebuild your brick-and-mortar residence and re-establish your life.

Tutorial: Introduction To Insurance

What You Will Need
Paperwork is the key to disaster recovery. With the proper paper trail, you can recover or replace the vast majority of your material possessions. The first step in your disaster preparations is to make copies (certified copies, when possible) or get duplicate originals of your key documents, which would include personal identification papers, financial records, credit card information, vehicle-related records and other important papers. (To learn more, read 8 Steps To An Organized Financial Life.)

If you suddenly find yourself standing in a pile of rubble that was once your home and your worldly possessions, establishing your identity will be of paramount importance. Access to personal identification documents such as your Social Security card, driver's license, marriage license, birth certificate, passport and any citizenship papers will help you quickly establish your identity and speed up the co-ordination of your efforts with insurance companies, construction contractors, bankers and other entities involved in rebuilding and recovery.

Financial Records
Most investors have an extensive paper trail that includes banking information, such as checking and savings account statements; retirement account information, which may include 401(k), IRA, brokerage and Social Security statements; and investment-specific information, such as leases, rental records, deeds, titles, bills of sale and life insurance policies. Tax records should also be taken into consideration.

Homeowners will have mortgage papers, insurance policies, and perhaps appraisals, loan information or deeds. When it comes to the contents of your home, proof of ownership may also be important for insurance purposes. Such proof can include photographs or videos of personal possessions; remember, digital cameras and camcorders make it possible to quickly and easily create a complete home inventory record.

Credit Card Information
Duplicate credit cards, or at least photocopies of the front and back of each of your credit cards, will come in handy should you need to access or replace all of the plastic once tucked into your wallet. Include contact numbers for each of your creditors if the numbers aren't already on the cards. PINs and passwords will also be of value.

Vehicle Records
The titles, warranty papers and maintenance records for any vehicle you own will enable you to provide proof of ownership and will be very useful if you decide to sell the vehicle. While cars and trucks obviously fall into the vehicle category, don't overlook campers, boats, personal watercraft, snowmobiles, trailers and anything else that moves and costs money to replace.

Other Important Papers
While everyone's personal situation will be slightly different, additional documents that may be important in a disaster recovery situation include disability and other medical records, proof of military service, child custody agreements, prenuptial agreements, diplomas and educational transcripts, death certificates and wills.

Where to Store It
Once you have gathered the necessary paperwork, you need to develop a system to organize and store it. Should you ever need to access this information, you'll want to be able to find exactly what you need as quickly as possible and with a minimal amount of effort. Start by getting a three-ring binder or portable file folder. Use color-coded tabs to create individual sections for each item. Store documents in plastic covers: not only will they provide some protection, but they will also stop you from accidentally discarding original documents.

The documentation you keep in your house should be stored in a safe but convenient place. A fireproof safe, locking filing cabinet or portable lockbox all provide suitable storage. If you live in a flood-prone area, be sure to use a watertight container. If you choose a portable storage container, make a habit of storing it in the same spot each time you access it. In the event of an emergency, you want to be able to go right to the container, grab it, and get out - without wasting valuable time searching for it. Few things will add more to your stress in a time of crisis than a fruitless search for important documents.

If you are tech-savvy, a computer and a scanner will allow you to store many of your important papers electronically. Your entire document library can be burned onto a CD or stored on a portable storage device - some of which are so small they can be attached to a keychain. Regardless of your storage medium, you are going to want two copies of your disaster recovery materials: one that you keep at home and one that you keep off-site. A safe deposit box at a bank, a locked cabinet at work and a trusted relative's residence are all common secondary storage sites.

Rebuilding your life in the wake of a disaster is a daunting task. However, advanced preparation can go a long way toward making recovery easier. If you don't have your documents in order, there's no time like the present to get started. Once you have everything in its proper place, remember to update it. If you lack the time or energy to keep your files updated on an ongoing basis, schedule a yearly checkup and use it as an opportunity to put the latest version of everything into your files. Even the most well-organized disaster recovery materials will be of no use to you if they are out-of-date.

For related content, see Build Yourself An Emergency Fund, The Importance Of Estate And Contingency Planning.

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    6 Risks International Stocks Face in 2016

    Learn about risk factors that can influence your investment in foreign stocks and funds, and what regions are more at-risk than others.
  2. Insurance

    Getting Your (Insurance) House in Order

    From starting a family to retirement, insurance can play a role in taking care of financial needs. This piece looks at some of the choices you can make.
  3. Home & Auto

    6 Reasons To Avoid Private Mortgage Insurance

    Homebuyers who put less than 20% down will likely be forced to secure private mortgage insurance. Here are six reasons to avoid it.
  4. Real Estate

    Ultra-Luxury Real Estate: What's Hot, What's Not

    And is this a good time to buy? Here's the 2016 forecast for luxury residences in seven global markets, from Shanghai to London to New York City.
  5. Real Estate

    You'll Need to Shell Out More for a Mansion

    But not everywhere. The places prices are still booming are ultra-luxe enclaves, such as Beverly Hills and the Hamptons.
  6. Insurance

    How High-Deductible Health Plans Work

    It will give you access to a Health Savings Account, but are the limitations worth the benefits?
  7. Real Estate

    The 5 Best Real Estate Lawyers in Los Angeles

    Discover some of the top real estate lawyers practicing in the Los Angeles area, and learn more about the kinds of legal issues they handle.
  8. Real Estate

    The 5 Best Real Estate Lawyers in Boston

    Discover some of the best real estate lawyers working in Boston, and read more about their legal experience and special practice areas.
  9. Insurance

    6 Best Renters Insurance Providers

    Here are six companies that consistently offer excellent renters insurance at competitive rates.
  10. Real Estate

    The 5 Best Real Estate Lawyers in Chicago

    Read about some of Chicago's top lawyers working in real estate law, and find out what types of clients they serve and what services they offer.
  1. Does homeowners insurance cover vandalism?

    Vandalism is covered under an all-perils home insurance policy unless it is specifically excluded. Vandalism coverage applies ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Does homeowners insurance cover tree damage?

    An all-perils homeowners insurance policy covers damage from trees in the event that it happens suddenly and by accident. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Does homeowners insurance cover roof replacement?

    A typical all-perils homeowners insurance policy covers the replacement of a roof, regardless of age, only if it is the result ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does homeowners insurance cover fires?

    House fires are one of the most common causes of damage to homes, and almost every homeowners insurance policy covers against ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Does homeowners insurance cover broken pipes?

    An all-perils homeowners insurance policy does not usually provide coverage for an actual broken pipe. However, the water ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Does homeowners insurance cover roof leaks?

    Roof leaks are covered under all perils homeowners insurance policies if the leak was caused by an act of nature. Acts of ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center