Is Your Personal Data Prepared for an Emergency?

January 19, 2007


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Many of life's unexpected perils, such as a fire, flood, theft, or death or serious injury occurring within your family, can have profound implications for your household's financial security. With contingency planning, however, you can limit the chaos and confusion that an emergency could bring to your financial life.As a part of that contingency planning, make it a priority to ensure that your personal data, including financial records, is prepared for an emergency. We recommend two action items you can work on today.

1. Organize and Secure Important Data

In the event of an emergency, you’ll want your personal data to remain safeguarded and easy to get to. We suggest you create and maintain a personal information repository.Buy a fireproof, waterproof and portable security file with index folders and tabs. Inside the file, organize your records under these categories or similar categories of your own:

  • Assets (account numbers or recent statements for bank, mutual fund and brokerage accounts)
  • Mortgages, loans and other liabilities
  • Estate plan (wills, trust, powers of attorney, health care directives, executor’s instructions, etc.)
  • Employee benefits (summary plan descriptions, benefits statements, benefits change announcements, and beneficiary designations)
  • Property deeds and titles
  • Personal identification papers (such as birth and marriage certificates and passports)
  • Insurance policies
  • Prescriptions
  • Household inventory (including photos or video of your belongings)

Your file should contain photocopies, not originals, of estate plan documents and personal identification papers like birth and marriage certificates and passports. Keep originals of these particular records, with the exception of wills, in a safe deposit box at a bank. Hand over originals of wills to your local registrar of wills or your attorney. Do not store originals of wills in a safe deposit box, because the box could be sealed temporarily after death, causing a delay in estate settlement.You can, instead of using a security file, organize your records in a standard three-ring binder and keep the binder inside a home security safe or chest.Or, as an alternative to a physical file, you can store documents electronically, if you have access to a computer with scanning capability. For example, you can scan documents and save them to a hard drive and two CDs, one to keep in your home and another to keep elsewhere.

2. Create a Quick-Reference Guide to Your Data

Put together a list, preferably no more than a page long, that lays out the following information for you or your loved ones to refer to in the event of an emergency:Emergency contacts. List the names, phone numbers, and addresses of family members living outside your area, doctors, financial advisors, insurance agents, and repair contractors.The locations of your important records. In most cases, the list will point to your personal information repository as the location of your records, assuming you’ve put together such a repository. As we explained above, however, originals of certain records should be kept in a place other than your repository, and your quick-reference guide should state the locations of these items, too.

Where to Keep Your Repository and Quick-Reference Guide

Store the file, safe or chest containing your personal information repository at home in a place where you or a loved one can get to it quickly and easily in an emergency.Make three copies of your quick-reference guide. Keep one copy for yourself and, if applicable, your spouse or partner. Give one copy to a loved one who lives not with you but in the same locality as you. Give the third copy to a trusted person who lives a good distance away from you, so that he or she would presumably remain safe in the event a natural disaster strikes your locality.Contact Grand Wealth Management for assistance with setting up your repository or creating your quick-reference guide.