September is National Preparedness Month and we’re now in hurricane season feeling the residual rainbands of Hurricane Isaac. Keeping emergency & survival kits at the ready is a good idea in the event of a natural disaster. But, also have a plan for your important documents. While keeping you & your family safe is the number one priority, you’ll also have the peace of mind that your financial documents and important papers are well taken care of & accessible after an event.
The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) offers the following tips to help individuals put their financial documents in order before a disaster strikes.
• Keep marriage and family records, including adoption papers, property deeds, birth certificates, wills, insurance policies, passports, Social Security cards, immunization records, credit card account numbers, car titles or lease contracts, bank and investment account numbers and three years of tax returns in a bank safe-deposit box. Put each of these documents in a sealed plastic bag to keep out moisture.
• Make and safeguard additional official copies of critical documents such as birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage certificates and the deed to your home for safekeeping and notify a trustee, close relative or attorney where your important financial information is located.
• Keep names and contact numbers for executors, trustees and guardians in a safe place, either in your safe deposit box or with a close relative.
• Take an inventory and keep a list of household valuables. Taking photographs of these items can help as well.
• Start and regularly contribute to an emergency fund that can cover at least three to four months of expenses. This fund should be separate from your savings or investment account.
• Include extra cash (ideally small denominations) in your home emergency kit, which should include a three-day supply of water, food, a first aid kit, can opener, flashlights, radio and extra batteries.
• Identify the records that you keep only on computer. They may not be available if electrical power fails, so make a printout and safeguard them or back them up to an external device or web storage facility.
• The web can serve as a supplement or back up to paper copies. Scanned or other electronic documents can be attached to e-mails and stored in your e-mail account or with secure online back-up services. There are many “cloud” services available, as well, such as Dropbox.
• If you feel flood insurance may be necessary to protect your home, start shopping around. Contact your insurance agent or visit FEMA’s website at www.fema.gov for more information.