4 Ways to Safeguard Your Important Documents

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Our hearts go out to anyone who falls victim of a natural disaster.  We hope that you and your families are safe.  Natural disasters may occur without any warning.  So how can you prepare?  Michael Rubin shares some important tips to help safeguard documents before one strikes.

Several times in the last few years, living in New Hampshire has provided me the opportunity to dread being without electricity – or worse. From the well-publicized Superstorm Sandy (which largely stayed to our south) to Hurricane Irene (which took a shocking detour to Vermont at the last moment), we’ve certainly been spared the brunt of the worst recent storms.


Still, we’ve had our share, including the “Great Ice Storm” and the “Mother’s Day Flood,” not to mention several nor’easters of varying intensity each winter.

Despite that declaration, I’m probably not as prepared – from a record-keeping standpoint – as I should be.  As I now recognize that crossing my fingers and hoping for the best isn’t a compelling strategy, I’ll share the steps I plan to take to rectify my situation.  Also, I’ll provide some thoughts for you to consider if you’d like to increase the odds you’ll be prepared if a severe storm or other calamity were to come your way.

1.  A “Grab and Go” Folder

Sometimes you receive warning about a potential disaster. Other times, you don’t. Sometimes a disaster means you should huddle down and absolutely not leave the house. Other times, an impending storm can mean you should get out and get out quickly.

To increase my preparedness for a quick evacuation, I am going to prepare a folder that contains copies of the following key items:

  • Homeowner’s insurance policy
  • Auto insurance policies
  • My and my wife’s driver’s licenses (front and back)
  • Social Security cards for the entire family
  • Credit cards (front and back)
  • Key phone numbers, including those of friends who are not in the immediate neighborhood yet who would probably be close enough to be able to help us. Also, the phone numbers of family who live in different areas of the country and are unlikely to be affected by whatever is ailing New Hampshire.
  • A list of additional things to quickly add to the “grab and go” folder if I need to actually grab and go with this folder. On this list will be my checkbooks and the small amount of cash I typically keep in the house.

2.  Safe Deposit Box

I’ll rent a safe deposit box too. My first step in doing so will be to decide where.  While I could choose the nearest branch of my primary local bank (which is only two miles away), doing so increases the odds that if something were to happen at my home, there might be a big problem at my bank too.  I’ll probably pick the branch closer to my office (15 miles away).

Once I open my safe deposit box, I’ll put copies of the following items inside it:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage license
  • Passports
  • Home deed
  • Car titles

3.  Digital Back Up

In addition to the paper back-ups, I’ll make a digital back up by scanning or otherwise typing the following information into a Word file or PDF:

  • All of the items that will be in my grab and go file and in my safe deposit box
  • Financial account numbers (e.g., 401(k), IRA, brokerage, bank accounts, etc.) and related contact information
  • Tax Returns
  • Our wills and other estate planning documents (e.g., powers of attorney)

I’ll save this digital backup in a few places.  I’ll put it in my Dropbox account so it will accessible by me anywhere there is an internet connection.  I’ll also put it on a zip disc that I will keep in the safe deposit box.  Last, I’ll send a digital copy to my mother in Florida.

Make a Movie

We will also need to take a video of our home and its contents so that we have proof of what we own should there be a sizable homeowner’s insurance claim.  I’ll store that video in the safe deposit box.  The stills I take of the household items I’ll put in my Dropbox.

It might sound like a lot, but for those who were unable to access their money or easily find the contact information of their insurance carrier after one of the big recent storms, doing so would have been a good investment of time.  Keeping all of the above updated won’t be too time consuming either, so I view this as a sizable one-time project followed by less than 30 minutes a year of maintenance.

What steps did you take to prepare for the worst that I have not discussed above? Do you feel prepared?

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