According to a 2010 Consumer Reports National Research Center survey, only 40% of Americans could find their important documents at a moment’s notice if needed. In addition, 25% of those surveyed had already lost some significant paperwork.1
What about you? Where are your important documents?
This is one area of preparedness that should not be overlooked, and it is one of the most important types of preparations that you could make ahead of any disaster.
Why Secure Your Documents Together?
Admittedly, the emergencies that one is most likely to face are those that that are more common. Events such as house fires, wildfires, and floods happen often enough that on any given day, someone somewhere has had their home and possessions unexpectedly destroyed. These types of events may be more common, but to those who are involved, they have the possibility of being no less devastating. There are other kinds of disasters that one may face as well. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and many other types of events which may require evacuations are also occasionally displayed on the news. For any of these emergencies mentioned, both the common, and the not-so-common, a challenging issue that one may face is that the world is most likely moving on and still functioning…and is expecting you to pick up the pieces and do the same. This is where the status of having all your important documents together will make a huge difference on how easy (or hard) it will be to put your life back together.
For any emergency one survives, one must deal with the aftermath. If your important documents are safe and intact, it makes tackling everything at hand so much easier than if you did not have them. For many, even those who don’t consider themselves to be “preppers,” this is an obvious suggestion. However, there are many who find themselves suddenly without them. One quick internet search will show just how common it is for those who had suffered some kind of disaster to have lost their important documents since there are many websites geared to show those people how to replace them.
Which Documents Should You Store?
The exact answers will differ for each family, since…well…each family is different, but as for a basic list, the following is a general guide:
- copy of your family emergency plan
- copy of your emergency communications plan
- birth certificates
- adoption papers
- marriage licenses/certificates
- divorce decrees
- death certificates
- religious documents
- powers of attorney
- other family legal documents
- important family phone numbers
- important family photos
- child identification kits
- copies of drivers’ licenses
- Social Security cards
- Medicaid/Medicare cards
- other government issued ID’s
- military ID’s
- military papers
- education transcripts/certificates
- current resumes
- employer contact information
- health insurance information
- immunization records
- medical histories
- dental records
- heath care powers of attorney
- other health care directives
- phone numbers of family doctors, dentists, hospitals, etc.
- property deeds/title documents
- mortgage documents and account information
- car titles
- auto loan documents
- lists and pictures of personal inventories (with serial numbers and/or other identifiable features)
- account numbers and institutional information for all checking, savings, and credit card accounts
- student loan documents
- documents for any other loans
- property insurance policies
- auto/boat/vehicle insurance policies
- stock certificates
- mutual fund information
- 401K information
- investment property information
- tax returns
- accountant contact information
- legal settlement documents
- information related to any other income, retirement, or pension accounts
If you own your own business, this is a must! You should store copies of any legal, financial, or other documents which you would require to get your business back up and running again in the event of an emergency. Phone numbers of business partners, suppliers, clients, and other related contacts should be stored with these documents as well.
- a list of all other important phone numbers not already addressed above
- an extra set of keys
- a secured USB drive with digital copies of everything listed here
- log-in user names and passwords to online accounts
By no means was this an exhaustive list, but this should get you going in the right direction. Some of these suggestions may apply to you, and others may not. In short, make sure you store together the documents that you believe you couldn’t live without. Then, if you have more room, store other documents that you believe would make your life a whole lot easier. Again, think through what you would need if you had to pick up the pieces after an emergency.
How Should You Store Your Important Documents?
One option is to store your important documents in a safe deposit box. However, in a grid-down scenario, or in any other wider emergency that might affect the bank also, you would likely not be able to retrieve those documents easily, if at all. Another alternative is a fire-proof, water-tight safe to keep at home. Fire safes are rated for their ability to protect contents for a specific time at a given temperature.2 They are also rated for their deterrence against possible theft. I would recommend doing your research to see what would work best for your given situation, although it may be good to note that according to the director of brand management for a major safe manufacturer, “[f]ires tend to move through a home, so 20 minutes is about the average in a room or an area.”3 So it appears that most people would do fine without the most expensive, bulkiest, highest-rated safes. In any case, consider all facets and all your options before choosing how to store your important documents. However you choose to store them, it is important to keep them safe from the elements in the event of a disaster. It is also important to store them in such a manner that they would not be easy to just pick up and steal. Wherever you store them, it is also imperative to have them organized in a fashion that you could retrieve whatever you are looking for easily and quickly.
Emergencies can happen when they are the least expected. Putting one’s life back together after any such event is not easy, but it can be made easier with the right preparations. Storing your important documents together safely is one of them.
Again, what about you? Where are your important documents?