Summertime in the United States is not just about backyard barbecues and school vacations anymore. Summer signals the start of hurricane and wildfire season in various parts of the country.
If you live in places where these phenomena are becoming more frequent, it’s smart to have a plan about how you will deal with a potential disaster. Even if you don’t live in a high-risk area, it’s still wise to prepare for the unexpected.
When thinking about how to prepare for a natural disaster, protecting your life and the lives of your family come first. But document protection is also a high priority. Luckily, you can do a lot ahead of time to make sure you won’t have to scramble to pull together those important documents in a moment of crisis.
What kind of documents do you need to protect?
Losing certain kinds of documents can have a big impact on your life, especially those that provide proof of identity and family relationships, what you own, what your legal responsibilities are (e.g., legal contracts), plans for your estate, and more. You may not use these documents in your day to day life, but they are critically important when you do need them, and they can prove difficult or even impossible to replace.
As a first step, it’s a good idea to go through your individual documents and assess which are most important to you and your household. Here are some examples of documents that you should make a special effort to protect.
- Birth certificate
- Citizenship document or visa
- Last will and testament
- Estate plan
- Living will
- Life insurance policy
- Social Security card
- Marriage/divorce certificate
- Power of attorney
Different types of documents may require different types of safety solutions. For example, you may want to keep your passport in a safe at home rather than in a bank safety deposit box, so it’s on hand when you need it.
Here are some different kinds of storage options.
1. Home safe
A home safe for important documents can offer you immediate access to your documents when you need them. Make sure the safe has a high fire protection rating. It’s probably a good idea to make sure that someone else you trust knows the combination or holds a spare key.
2. Bank safety deposit box
Bank safety deposit boxes are one of the safest places for you to store precious documents. Banks provide exceptionally secure document storage and give you an offsite location to keep them safe if something should happen to your home. It’s wise to make sure another trusted person other has access so that they can retrieve documents for you if needed.
3. In the cloud
Documents that are stored digitally cannot be destroyed by water, fire, or wind, and you can make a digital copy of almost every kind of document. Make sure that you save your digital documents in cloud-based storage (e.g., Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, etc.) rather than your hard drive. After all, your computer can be destroyed by the elements — not to mention a spilled cup of coffee.
4. With another party
If you have a family lawyer, you may want to store important legal documents with them, or you may have a friend or family member who will keep copies of documents in a safe place for you.
5. Keeping multiple copies
Safest of all is having more than one copy of each document and storing the copies in different places. If one gets lost or destroyed, you have back-ups.
When catastrophe occurs, the last thing you want to worry about is losing your key life documents. Planning ahead and storing them in a safe place can offer peace of mind if disaster should strike.
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