Disasters can happen anytime, and anywhere. While most disasters can't be predicted, many can, and it is those situations that you can be prepared for. According to the National Weather Service, scientists can often predict the occurrence of hurricanes, coastal tsunamis and even tornadoes with enough accuracy to give the local population at least 30 minutes warning.
Those 30 minutes are essential to get you and your family to safety. They are also essential in ensuring you have the items you'll need after the disaster. The usual disaster survival lists include batteries, water, and flashlights. While these should definitely be part of every disaster kit there are several items that can be more important, particularly after the disaster. Your financial documents are extremely important, yet these documents are probably the last thing on your mind.
The American Red Cross and the American Institute of CPAs have recommendations for a Financial Survival Kit. A simple kit that can save you weeks or months of frustration, and could save your financial future.
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Planning for the Worst
If you've ever had to obtain copies of your driver's license or birth certificate, you already know the frustration you can encounter. Imagine having to replace all of your vital records after a tornado destroys your home.
Financial experts such as the members of the American Institute of CPAs recommend having a personal financial kit that is easily carried in the event of an emergency. These experts suggest all original documents be kept in either a fire-proof safe in your home, or preferably, in a safety deposit box at a bank away from your residence. If a natural disaster strikes your neighborhood, it could also strike the local bank leaving you without a resource for those documents or cash. The average cost of a safe-deposit box is $30-$50 per year. (For related reading, see How Much Disaster Can Gold Hedge?)
A Basic Kit to Grab
If an emergency is imminent, you will want a basic kit that you can easily carry with you after a disaster. If your home is destroyed, this kit should have copies of all the basic information you'll need. This "kit" can be a sealable plastic bag, or a small plastic storage container that you can easily "grab-and-run" with. There are many documents you will need to help you recover after a disaster strikes, most should be kept in the fire-proof safe or safe deposit box. This basic kit should consist of essential documents to take care of your basic needs.
- A copy of your driver's license or state identification
- Copies of your credit cards and bank account information
- Copies of current prescriptions, including eyeglasses, and any medical histories that EMS and medical personnel would need to know – allergies, asthma, heart meds, diabetic condition, etc.
- List of your emergency contacts – family members, doctors, insurance agents, financial advisors
- Insurance cards, policy numbers and agents contact information – Life, health, homeowner, auto, renters
- Safe deposit box information - name of financial institution, list of the contents and the key
- Copies of any living wills, power of attorney or medical power of attorney
- Enough cash for living expenses for three days for your entire family
- Prepaid phone cards, cell phone charger
Trying to recover necessary financial documents "after the disaster" is very much like herding cats. It is far better to plan ahead and not need these items than to try and piece them together in the chaos after the disaster. The following list of additional documents could save you months of frustration searching for the appropriate information. If your home or business is destroyed then all the documents and financial information will probably have been destroyed. Keeping these additional items in your kit could prevent financial ruin. (If you own a business you should have a separate kit for business documents.) Copies of these should be kept in your home-safe or fire-proof box. The originals should be kept off-site in a safe-deposit box. (For related reading, see World's Most Expensive Disasters.)
- Mortgage information and deed to your home
- Car titles
- A photo of each family member
- Marriage / divorce papers
- Adoption records
- Birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Tax returns for the last three years
- Military records
- Stock/bond certificates
If the disaster is on the scale of recent climatic events, you could be facing replacing everything you own: home, cars, furniture and clothing. Most of us never give a second thought to those items we use every day from a microwave to a hair dryer, but those are just a few of the items that will need to be replaced after a disaster. If you take a few hours to have these additional items in your financial disaster kit, you'll be well ahead of the game. (For related reading, see 5 Natural Disaster Scams To Watch For.)
- An inventory of your home – video, photo or written list
- Recent home improvement records
- Retirement account records, account numbers and contact information
- Recent pay stubs
- Appraisals of any jewelry, artwork, antiques or collectibles
If you have a scanner and computer, another great idea is to spend a day scanning all your important documents and storing them on a flashdrive. This small drive can be dropped right into you plastic disaster kit. It is still best to have hard copies of essential documents like your driver's license, and credit card information, but all of them can be stored and easily carried on a flashdrive.
The Bottom Line
Creating your financial disaster kit will take a few hours of your time. If you consider how many months collecting all that lost data could take, a few hours is a very small investment. Having just a few crucial pieces of financial information could save you, your family and your business from financial ruin. (Use these easy tips to protect your financial interests from natural disasters. For more, see Preparing Your Finances From Natural Disasters.)