Individuals and home businesses: A survival plan for important documents

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When storms ravage the country, we often concentrate on how lucky we are if we're not in the path of the storm, but fail to consider the possibility that the next storm might just be a direct hit. Before you find yourself bailing out the basement, try re-examining your own readiness to react, should catastrophe strike your home.

Most of us know what to grab should we need to evacuate on short notice and many of us have these items in an easily accessible location, ready to be loaded into the car in five minutes’ time.

Gallon jugs of water, a case of PowerBars, extra clothing, even a bag of dog chow - these items you can probably lay your hands on instantly. Can you say the same for your family’s birth certificates, copies of your income tax returns, or your will?

Locating important paperwork as you race out the door may be hard to do. Many financial planners have advised their clients to create a “Beneficiary Book” to help heirs or executors handle their final affairs; the same idea can be implemented in the event you are forced to flee your home.

Here is a quick check-list of important papers you should be able to quickly grab and take with you, as recommended by experts from the banking and financial fields. Please take a moment to print this and use for reference as you gather your important papers:

  • Birth certificates and adoption papers
  • Social Security cards and earnings reports
  • Health and school records
  • Recent bank statement and pertinent account records
  • Marriage certificates and/or divorce decrees
  • Titles, deeds and registrations for property, including vehicles
  • Mortgage and other loan information
  • Insurance policies
  • Investments records
  • Credit and ATM cards
  • Credit card statements
  • Photo IDs, such as drivers' licenses and passports.
  • Medical records and immunization histories for children
  • Medication list and prescription numbers
  • Recent credit report
  • Checkbook with blank checks and deposit slips
  • Safe deposit box key

Records you should be able to get your hands on that specifically relate to a home business:

  • Business licenses and certificates
  • Tax exemption certificates
  • Employee identification information
  • Supplier and shipping contact lists
  • Computer backup

If you gather original copies of your important documents, experts advise you take steps to guarantee their safety. Slip plastic covers over the papers, and store them in a fire- and water-proof strong box. Make copies of your documents and store those in a safe location away from your home.

And when it comes to hard copies and strong boxes, experts also make this warning: Strong boxes can float away. They suggest you scan and save copies of your documents on your computer and then e-mail the documents to yourself so you can download and print them once you and your family are out of harm’s way. To make sure you can access your e-mail account no matter where you find refuge, you may want to create an e-mail account on one of the servers such as Yahoo!, AOL, gmail, or Google, which can be accessed on any computer.

And one more thing experts advise: Don’t forget cash. Cash works when loss of electricity renders useless your ATM and credit cards. Make a withdrawal as you can as soon as you receive a warning that a natural disaster is pending, BEFORE the disaster actually strikes.

Once the danger has passed and you can return home, put the money you haven’t spent back in the bank.

AccountingWEB would like to thank The L-F-E Institute and the American Federation of Teachers for providing this information.


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