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When it comes to preparing for weather emergencies or other disasters, financial readiness is as important as a flashlight with fully charged batteries. Leaving your home can be stressful, but knowing that your personal and financial documents are up to date, in one place, and easy to find can make a big difference. Here’s how to organize important papers before a disaster strikes.

Do a Household Inventory

Make a list and take pictures or videos of what you own. This can help if you have to file insurance claims. Even if you save your list and pictures on a device, print out copies, too. Also gather important documents and information, like

  • Social Security cards, health insurance cards, and a list of current prescriptions
  • insurance policy numbers and contact information at those companies
  • copies of important financial and family records, including deeds, titles, wills, birth and adoption certificates, marriage certificates, passports, military records, and employee benefit and retirement documents. NOTE: Except for wills, keep original records in a safe deposit box or at some other secure location. If you have a will, ask your attorney to keep the original.
  • ownership records for your home, cars, RVs, or boats
  • a list of bank, loan, credit card, mortgage, debit, and investment account numbers, and contact information for each institution
  • backups of the financial information you keep on your computer
  • information on your pets, like medical, prescription, and vaccination records, along with current photos and ID chip numbers, in case you’re separated

Keep It in a Safe and Convenient Place

Keep your information safe. Here are some options:

Use a lockable, fireproof file box. Put important documents in the box, and keep it in a secure, handy place in your home so you can “grab it and go.” Include some cash, since ATMs or banks may be closed, an extra set of keys for your house and car, and the key to your safe deposit box, if you have one.

Rent a safe deposit box. A safe deposit box can protect documents that are hard to replace, but that you don’t need to use very often.

Take advantage of technology. It can protect important documents while making it easier to get access in an emergency or when you need to update them.

  • Online bill-pay. Paying your bills online lets you stay current, even if you can’t get mail and don’t have your checkbook. Contact your bank for more information.
  • Personal cloud storage. Online storage is available for free with many email accounts. Use your space to upload PDFs of important documents you’ve scanned. Make sure access requires a strong password and multifactor authentication.
  • Virtual safe deposit boxes. Some banks offer this online service to protect documents, photos, and videos. Make sure the data is protected with a strong password and/or multifactor authentication.
  • USB flash drives. Also known as a thumb drive, these portable hard drives offer a lot of storage space in a small package. Copy your important computer files onto the flash drive and keep it with you. You might also want to keep a copy in your safe deposit box or with a friend or relative. Be sure to password protect your flash drive, in case you lose it.
  • Online password manager. Websites and software let you store your usernames and passwords. You have to remember only one master password to access the list.

Update Your Information

Review the contents of your household inventory, fireproof box, and safe deposit boxes, as well as your online and digital storage, at least once a year. Make sure everything is up to date.

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