After a disaster, the relief that victims feel from surviving often gives way to the frustration of trying to rebuild their lives. Depending on the extent of damage, this can be time-consuming and costly. Preparing your financial information in advance can help people avoid many of the hurdles and pitfalls that occur after a disaster and may even make it easier to finance the rebuilding of your life. Having the right legal and financial documents on hand can help make things go smoother in a number of ways that range from applying for FEMA benefits to filing an insurance claim. To properly secure financial records and general well-being, it’s important to prepare and develop a plan.

Gather Important Documentation

Compiling important records and documents is the first step toward preparing for a potential disaster or emergency. Having the right documents is crucial to prove your identity, access accounts, and generally get back on your feet after a devastating event. Important information includes financial and legal documents, such as tax statements, insurance policies, and information from savings, checking, investment, and other financial accounts. Additionally, you should gather, record, and store mortgage or lease agreements, important business information, or sources of income including payment stubs or any documents that will provide proof of social security or other government benefits. You should also keep relevant account information regarding any reoccurring bills or financial obligations like loans, credit card, or child support payments, and vehicle registration. Copies of legal documents, including powers of attorney, trusts or wills, should be kept in a secure location and also sent to your attorney.

Update Records and Obtain Needed Policies

Once gathered, people should review their policies and documents to ensure that they are up-to-date and accurate. Anyone who does not have insurance for their home, rental, health, or life should make every effort to obtain what they are missing. Damage to one’s property and medical bills are expensive, and most people will find they are unable to cover expenses without having current policies. When obtaining home insurance, speak with an agent as it is crucial to have the appropriate type and level of coverage for the area that you live in. The insurer will cover any necessary repairs associated with specific disasters common to the area. Another important step is to maintain a current photo or video-based inventory of personal belongings which will prove useful when filling out insurance claims. In addition, people will likely need to also purchase flood insurance as homeowners insurance generally does not cover this.

Safely Secure Critical Financial and Legal Documents

All of the necessary records must be stored in a way that keeps them safe, secure, and accessible even in the event of a disaster. There are several ways to accomplish this; store digital copies of documents on a portable hard drive or a flash drive. For security purposes, the drive should be encrypted or password protected. Another option is to send copies of these documents to a trusted cloud storage provider where they can easily be retrieved from the Internet at any time and from any location. Hard copies of documents or your external hard drive should be kept in a fire and waterproof safety deposit box. In addition to financial documents or records, people should also keep cash in the form of small bills in their secure box as disasters often make ATMs inaccessible.  Consider the risk of receiving payments by mail, as mail services may stop running following a disaster. Make arrangements for benefits or other payments to be deposited directly into a checking account and for statements to be delivered via email.

Additional Records and a Basic Emergency Plan

In addition to financial records, people will want to keep other information that will help make the path to recovery smoother. This includes the contact information of family members, insurance agents, doctors, and service providers. People should also keep copies of important medical information such as immunization records and a list of their prescription medications. Household information that can be kept in a disaster safety box includes photo identification for every member of the household, pet ID tags or microchip information, social security cards, birth certificates, and military service identification or discharge papers. Maintain a written, photographic, or video-based inventory of personal belongings which will prove useful when filling out insurance claims.

This information is all a part of one’s basic disaster or emergency plan which is generally meant to help people know what to do during and after a disaster. This plan should also outline escape routes from the home and designate a meeting location for family members who may become separated by a disaster. An emergency plan will also help people to create a basic emergency supply kit that includes items such as bottled water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, and a battery operated radio.