Tips for Protecting Your Important Documents When Disaster Strikes

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July 18, 2019  Marc Rittersporn/

On July 4th and 5th of 2019, two major earthquakes – in fact the biggest to hit Southern California in decades – reminded us that disasters can strike any time.

Thankfully, the quakes hit a sparsely populated region of California and there were no reported casualties – but the results of the quakes can be seen from space.  All of us here in Florida are painfully aware of natural disasters as we prepare for hurricanes every year.

Protecting Your Documents

How can you protect your vital documents?  The key is to take the time in advance to gather all your important documents (files, folders, photos) together, copying and/or scanning them and then storing the copies and originals in a safe place.

Gathering Your Documents

Some important documents worth saving include: birth certificate, marriage certificate, Social Security card, health information (vaccinations, hospitalizations), employment contract, driver’s license, passport and property records, such as deeds, title, title insurance for autos and real estate.

Also, property photos, receipts for big-ticket items like furnishings and home improvements, appraisals for collectibles (like coins, jewelry, medals and rare stamps), original prospectuses for any partnerships, insurance declarations (property, life, health), legal papers (wills, power of attorneys) and investment account beneficiary designation forms, for individual retirement accounts and the like.

Copying Your Documents

The easiest way is paper, but this can lead to problems with finding and retrieving documents. The other way is electronically, which is the preferred method since it allows easy searching, updates and multiple user access. Copy and scan these documents to your computer. You can convert the files into PDFs.

Storing Your Documents in Paper Form

You can place the originals in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box. Safes are rated by the amount of time they can withstand the extreme temperatures fire produces.

Many of these safes also offer protection against water, humidity and other changes in climate.

A safe deposit box is also a  place to store important items. It offers privacy and security under the bank’s umbrella.

Unlike a fireproof  safe at home, some items should NOT go in a safe deposit box – namely, anything you might need in an emergency, in case your bank is closed for the night, the weekend or a holiday.

Consider giving the originals to your financial advisor and making copies to go in your safe deposit box or to give a close friend or relative. Make sure a responsible person is aware of where your important documents are kept, and how to gain access to them.

Storing Your Documents in Electronic Form

Although you can only store the originals in paper form, keeping your copies electronically gives you and the ones you trust the power to use the internet and mobile phone networks to reach your information. You can control who has access to your files. Anywhere you go, you can always get the files you need.

Tell the people that need to know about these documents (e.g., beneficiaries, financial advisor, attorneys, CPAs, trustees, executors) so they know where to find them and can get them when needed.