How to Create a Grab-and-Go Financial Kit For Disasters
When faced with a natural disaster, financial paperwork probably isn't in the forefront of your mind. It should be.
Homes can be repaired. Belongings can be replaced. But tracking down important financial paperwork isn't something you want to worry about in a crisis.
"Coping with the damage and destruction after a hurricane or other disaster can be overwhelming," says Ted Sarenski, a CPA in Syracuse, N.Y. "Losing vital records that could be critical to getting back on your feet compounds the trauma. Having copies with you or stored in a safe location will help expedite the recovery process."
Recent events are a good reminder of why you need to create a portable disaster kit of financial records no matter where you live. You may not have time to sort through documents in an emergency, so you need to be prepared. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the American Red Cross and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) offer readiness guides to help you get organized before disaster strikes.
The groups recommend you create your disaster kit in a portable file box and store it in an easy-to-access location so you can grab the box on your way out the door.
While many records can be replaced, chasing them down -- especially if you're trying to rebuild your home or if you're displaced for an extended period of time -- can be a hassle.
"After a hurricane or other natural disaster, you could be without power," Sarenski says. "You can't count on jumping online to pull up records. Having records handy will streamline the process as you work to file insurance claims or get other benefits that could be available through emergency relief or government programs."
Here are 15 items to keep in your emergency kit:
- A letter of instruction to your loved ones. You'll want your family to have this information in case you are not there to help them through a disaster.
- List of emergency contacts, including doctors, financial advisors and family members
- Federal and state tax returns. Keep at least the three most recent ones in the kit.
- Copies of important medical information. This includes your health insurance card, immunization records and prescriptions, including prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses.
- Home improvement records
- Inventory of your possessions. You might want to make a home video of your stuff.
- Warranties and receipts for major purchases
- Appraisals of jewelry, collectibles, artwork and other valuable items
- Credit card account information
- Retirement account records
- Banking and savings information. This includes recent checking, savings and investment account statements.
- Mortgage documents or the lease agreement for the home you rent
- Employee benefits information
- Backups of critical digital information, such as any accounting files
- Safe deposit box information (location, contents and key)
Also consider adding copies of the following documents to avoid the headache of replacing them:
- Birth, death and marriage certificates
- Divorce and child custody papers
- Adoption papers
- Military records
- Social Security cards
- Copies of drivers' licenses
- Mortgage/property deeds
- Stock and bond certificates
- Car titles
- List of insurance policies (life, health, disability, long-term care, auto, homeowners, renters), including the type, company, policy number, and name of insured
- Copies of power of attorney, living will and other estate planning documents
- Trust documents
If you're able to find a lightweight fireproof box that's portable, great. But If you can't find one, make sure the records you add to your portable kit are copies and then keep originals in a fireproof safe or a bank safety deposit box. Also make sure your attorney has originals of wills and estate planning documents.
For more disaster preparation guides, visit AICPA's financial literacy website, and look under the "What's New" section.
Of course, these guidelines are just a starting point. If you've ever created an emergency kit -- or if you've learned the hard way after a disaster -- I'd love to hear from you and welcome your comments below.