No one expects to be the victim of a disaster, yet every year people find themselves in the midst of fires, floods, earthquakes and other catastrophic events with little, if any, time to prepare. And every year personal and financial records are lost because they can’t be located quickly in an emergency. That’s why it’s important to take the time to organize your records and essential information so that they’re easily accessible if you are forced to leave your home suddenly.

It’s just as important to let someone you trust know where those records are stored, so that if something happens to you, your loved ones have access to the information they need.

Key Records

Personal records include:

  • Birth certificates for you and your family
  • Adoption papers
  • Social Security cards
  • Health insurance identification cards
  • Marriage certificate, prenuptial agreement, divorce decree or separation agreement
  • Passports

Financial records include:

  • Deeds to your home and other property
  • Vehicle titles and registrations
  • Auto, life, and homeowners insurance policies
  • Bank accounts Investment records
  • Wills, trust agreements, and other estate planning documents
  • Mortgage and loan agreements
  • Credit cards
  • Copies of tax returns
  • Passwords to online accounts

You may also want to make a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of your financial institutions, insurance agent, attorney, doctor and financial advisor and keep them with your records.

Your Life in Words and Pictures

In the event of a flood, fire or other natural disasters, having a list of what you own can help you with insurance claims. Take an inventory of your furniture, appliances, computer equipment, televisions, jewelry, collectibles and other expensive items. Include any sales receipts and appraisals you have, as well as photos or videos. Keep these records with your important documents.

You’ve Gathered Them — Now What?

Once you have all your important documents together, you’ll want to keep them that way. Storing them in a locked, fireproof box that you can take with you during an evacuation is one option. But you should also keep copies of all important documents in a safe place outside your home.

Since many financial institutions provide statements electronically, much of your financial information may be available online. Consider scanning other important documents into electronic format and storing them on a backup storage device or a secure cloud-based storage server. Paper back-up copies may be useful in the event of a power outage or interruption in internet service.

For More Information

You can find a wide range of information on disaster planning on the Department of Homeland Security’s website, including an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit that can help you organize your records.