September is National Disaster Preparedness month. One step in being prepared is to organize vital records and documents so that they can be easily located and transported if the need to evacuate arises.
People often ignore this step because of their confusion in determining which records and documents are important. The following list will help you identify which types of records and documents should be gathered.
• Personal records. Personal records are documents that prove identity and status and will expedite resources from banks, insurance companies and government agencies, as well as help locate family members or pets that become separated.
Key documents include birth certificates, marriage certificates, passport, driver’s license or state-issued identification, citizenship papers, recent photo of each family member clearly showing facial features and photo of family pet.
• Financial records. This is the most complex and confusing area because of the sheer volume of paper. Critical financial documents relate to proving ownership, establishing value and controlling risk.
Key documents include bank statements, investment account statements, credit card statements, deeds of trust, mortgage and loan documents, escrow statements, certificates of title, stock certificates, leases, rental records, household inventory, Social Security documents, declaration pages of property, disaster and vehicle insurance policies, two years of tax returns and W-2 forms.
• Legal. Each of your personal situations will be different. As a result, many types of legal documents listed may not be applicable.
Key documents include wills, durable power of attorney for management of property and personal affairs, trust documents, employment contracts, stock option agreements, separation/divorce records, custody agreements and adoption records.
• Health. Natural disasters often cause medical emergencies and situations that must be solved immediately. Having proper health and medical records will be beneficial in emergency situations.
Key documents include health history, immunization records, copies of medical insurance cards (front and back), prescription information, health insurance policy, living will and durable power of attorney for heath care.
Safe deposit boxes are often used to store vital documents. However, it is important to remember that safe deposit boxes are still susceptible to fire, theft, flood and damage from earthquakes. As a result, copies of important documents also should be kept at home, where they can be accessed easily for daily use. Once the hard work of assembling records is done, use an organization system that can be retrieved and transported in case of an emergency.
Today, there are several new products available that provide systems for organizing and storing records and documents in portable containers. The products not only provide portable storage, but also identify the common documents and records found in a home and provide forms and guidance for capturing information.
Organizing your records and having them easily accessible will facilitate the recovery or replacement of material possessions and make it easier to re-establish your life and provide you with peace of mind in the wake of an emergency or natural disaster. Remember that once you have assembled the documents, it is important that you keep them updated.