Coping with a disaster is difficult under any circumstance, but the trauma is multiplied when vital records are lost. If you haven’t done so already, take a few hours to organize your important documents and put them in a safe place. Even if you never experience a disaster, the peace of mind gained from organizing your records is well worth the few hours spent on this important task.
Where to store your records
A safe deposit box or home safe are two common ways to protect your records
and other irreplaceable items. Ideally you should store originals of records that would be difficult to replace in a safe deposit box at a bank. Consider using a bank that is some distance from your home to decrease the chances of the bank being affected by the same disaster.
What to keep in your safe deposit box
- Birth, death and marriage certificates
- Divorce and child custody papers
- Adoption papers
- Military records
- Social Security cards
- Copies of driver’s licenses
- Mortgage/property deeds
- Stock and bond certificates
- Car titles
- List of insurance policies (life, health, disability, long-term care, auto, homeowners and renters), including the type, company, policy number and name of insured
- Copies of power of attorney, living will and other medical powers
- Trust documents
What to add to your disaster supply kit
Keep copies of essential household records in your disaster supplies kit so they’re handy if you need to evacuate. Think about the records you would need to take with you if you suddenly had to evacuate your home during a disaster.
Consider making copies of all the records you have stored in your bank safe deposit box or home safe and put them in a portable, fire-resistant, waterproof box that you keep easily accessible. (You might want to keep irreplaceable keepsakes and photographs in this box, too.)
Additional records to keep in your disaster supplies kit might include:
- Letter of intent to your loved ones in case you are not there to help them through a disaster.
- Federal and state tax returns (if you have room, store all your returns here, but if not, at least keep the three most recent ones in the kit).
- Copies of important medical information including your health insurance card, doctor’s name(s) and phone numbers, immunization records and prescriptions (including prescriptions for glasses and contacts).
- Home improvement records.
- Inventory of your possessions, which can also be stored online.
- Warranties and receipts for major purchases.
- Appraisals of jewelry, collectibles, artwork and other valuable items.
- Credit card records.
- Retirement account records.
- Recent checking, savings and investment account statements.
- Rental agreement, lease and/or mortgage documents.
- Recent pay stubs and employee benefits information.
- List of emergency contacts, including doctors, financial advisers and family members.
- Backups of critical digital information, such as any accounting files.
- Safe deposit box information (location, contents and key).
Once or twice a year, go through your safe and disaster supplies kit to make sure your records are up to date. Be sure to update your records after making major purchases or completing major remodeling projects.