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."
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.