May 29, 2012

Preparing for a Disaster–Are Your Financial Records in Order?

Nan Jensen,
Extension Agent,
Family and Consumer Sciences

A disaster strikes. Your home and possessions are destroyed. Will you be able to pick up the pieces? Disasters are a part of life. June 1 marks the start of hurricane season and we all need to become familiar with hurricane preparedness strategies such as taking care of our property and how to handle life without electricity for long periods of time. What many people don’t often realize is that financial preparation is another key to survival and to cleaning up after the event.

Important Records
To start, it's important to know where your family records and valuable documents are and be able to pick them up and take them with you, if you must evacuate. Create a “to go” kit for those documents. Purchase a folder, briefcase or other carrying case. Better yet, purchase a fireproof portable cotainer. Examples of papers to include in the kit are:
  • Checking account numbers and bank 
  • List of savings and investments including CDs, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds 
  • Credit card safety record 
  • Household inventory – videotape, paper copy, and or disk 
  • List of insurance policies with name of company, type of policy and policy number 
  • Copy of will and trust documents, living will 
  • Copy of titles (house, car, other property) 
  • Copy of certificates: birth, marriage, divorce, death, and adoption 
  • Passports 
  • List of family advisors: accountant, attorney, banker, doctors, dentist, employer, financial adviser, insurance agents, religious leader, banker. 
  • Bank account numbers 
  • Educational records 
  • Investment records 
  • Military records 
  • Other special papers that would be difficult or impossible to replace if lost. 

Take advantage of paperless record keeping for financial and tax records. If you have access to a scanner, scan your papers and documents into an electronic format and store on a flash drive or CD. Leave the original in a separate storage place. Many important papers should be kept in a safety deposit box. If you use a software package to keep track of your finances, you may want to keep a back-up copy with your "to go" papers.

A Household Inventory
An up-to-date household inventory is especially important to have. Before a disaster, an inventory will help you determine if you have enough insurance to cover the contents of your home. After a disaster, it will help prove the value of the possessions that are damaged or destroyed for insurance or tax purposes.

An inventory consists of a description of each item including model and serial numbers, when and where you bought it, and the cost of the item. Be thorough and include items such as towels and clothing. Costs add up and it would be expensive to replace these things entirely. Also include photos or a video to accompany your inventory and keep it up to date.

The University of Illinois, College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences provides an excellent guide and relevant forms for conducting a household inventory. Access the guide online at

If you take time to prepare and organize papers now, it will save you from unwanted stress and chaos in case of a disaster.

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