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If a wildfire, flood, or severe weather event threatens your home, you may have very little time to get away safely. For example, some U.S. residents reported they only had minutes to escape fast-moving West Coast wildfires in September 2020.

We don’t like to think about such devastating scenarios happening to us, but preparedness can give you valuable peace of mind. After making sure people and pets are safe, securing your important documents is near the top of every emergency to-do list.

Many financial and medical records are challenging and time-consuming to replace, so having them readily available after an emergency can help you restore your life as soon as possible. Do you know where your important documents are? Are they in a safe location? Could you access them quickly?

This article will examine what papers you should protect and explain how you can secure and store them.

How to Keep Documents Safe?

Your first step is to think about what personal documents you would want to save if you had to evacuate your home quickly. Financial and legal documents, medical forms, and official identification papers should come to mind. Next, consider where you are currently storing them.

Are they safe from theft or the effects of a natural disaster like a fire or flood? Are they in several different locations in your home where it would take precious time to gather them together?

Before you store documents

Here is a checklist of valuable documents you will want to protect:

  1. Vital records. These documents include birth certificates, death certificates, and adoption or foster parenting papers.

  2. Medical papers. These include vaccination records, prescriptions, and hospitalization records for family members.

  3. Social Security cards. You may have your number memorized, but you may need the original card for identification purposes.

  4. Passports. Your passport is expensive and time-consuming to replace. Passport theft also is linked to identity theft.

  5. Living Will and Last Will. A living gives instructions to execute on your behalf if you cannot make your own health decisions. A Last Will and Testament details who gets what once you pass away.

  6. Tax Returns. Financial experts advise keeping hard copies of your tax returns for at least three years.

  7. Property ownership forms. These papers include real estate deeds, business papers, lease agreements, loan agreements, mortgage papers, and titles and registrations for the vehicles you own.

  8. Financial accounts. Even if your bank accounts are all online, you should have a written list of all your accounts, including login usernames and passwords, for you or a loved one to have in an emergency.

  9. Insurance policies. Once again, your policies may be online, but your access to the internet may be limited. A hard copy of your policies, along with your policy numbers and contact information for your insurance companies, is essential.

  10. Appraisals. Original appraisals for high-value times, such as art or jewelry pieces, establish your ownership and the value of these items.

  11. Marital status papers. The documents include marriage certificates, divorce papers, prenuptial agreements, alimony, and child support agreements.

  12. Irreplaceable photos or hand-written letters. You can take photos or make copies of these valuable, but they are not the same as having the originals.

As you go through this checklist process, you may find that you need to make copies of certain legal family and business documents. Visit lawdistrict.com for help with creating these important papers.

Read more:How long you should keep important documents

Places to Store Important Documents

Now that you’ve identified and gathered your important documents, it’s time to store the originals and the copies in safe and secure locations. Here are your best options:

Safe deposit box

If you don’t need frequent access to your documents, renting a safe deposit box from your bank is an offsite storage solution. Your items will be stored in a locked metal box that is further protected by back security. The cost of renting a safe deposit box ranges from about $60 to $180, depending on the size of the box. Drawbacks to safety deposit boxes are that they are available only when the bank is open and the contents are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Lockable cabinet or safe

If you prefer to store important documents at home, you will want to shop for fire-proof, lockable filing cabinets or safes. Research these storage solutions carefully. Some are easy to break into and do not provide adequate heat protection. You may need to pay up for the best quality, but it should be a one-time expense. Also, be sure that at least one trusted person outside of your home has the lock combination or key in case you cannot access them.

Attorney

If you hired an attorney to draw up a will to help you with your estate plan, you might wish to store these crucial documents with that legal office. Most estate planning attorneys will store this paperwork at no additional cost. If you decide to go this route, keep up with any changes in the firm to make sure your documents do get lost in a move.

Digital storage

Another secure way to keep your documents safe and accessible is to store them online. As long as you have internet access, companies like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive can give you 24-hour access on your computer or mobile device. Although there is a risk of online hackers, the advantages of Cloud storage are many. For instance, you can share your documents easily with family members, medical professionals, and insurers in the event of an emergency.

You may find that a mix of these different storage solutions works for you. No matter what choices you make, take an inventory of your documents and their locations. Keep that list along with your home papers. That way, your family members will know about that safety deposit box or that online storage file.

Also, now that your important papers are better organized, you might want to shred old records such as tax-related documents over seven-year-old and utility bills and banking documents more than a year old. It can be comforting to know that you are safely storing what you need and safely disposing of what you don’t need anymore.

If a wildfire, flood, or severe weather event threatens your home, you may have very little time to get away safely. For example, some U.S. residents reported they only had minutes to escape fast-moving West Coast wildfires in September 2020.

We don’t like to think about such devastating scenarios happening to us, but preparedness can give you valuable peace of mind. After making sure people and pets are safe, securing your important documents is near the top of every emergency to-do list.

Many financial and medical records are challenging and time-consuming to replace, so having them readily available after an emergency can help you restore your life as soon as possible. Do you know where your important documents are? Are they in a safe location? Could you access them quickly?

This article will examine what papers you should protect and explain how you can secure and store them.

How to Keep Documents Safe?

Your first step is to think about what personal documents you would want to save if you had to evacuate your home quickly. Financial and legal documents, medical forms, and official identification papers should come to mind. Next, consider where you are currently storing them.

Are they safe from theft or the effects of a natural disaster like a fire or flood? Are they in several different locations in your home where it would take precious time to gather them together?

Before you store documents

Here is a checklist of valuable documents you will want to protect:

  1. Vital records. These documents include birth certificates, death certificates, and adoption or foster parenting papers.

  2. Medical papers. These include vaccination records, prescriptions, and hospitalization records for family members.

  3. Social Security cards. You may have your number memorized, but you may need the original card for identification purposes.

  4. Passports. Your passport is expensive and time-consuming to replace. Passport theft also is linked to identity theft.

  5. Living Will and Last Will. A living gives instructions to execute on your behalf if you cannot make your own health decisions. A Last Will and Testament details who gets what once you pass away.

  6. Tax Returns. Financial experts advise keeping hard copies of your tax returns for at least three years.

  7. Property ownership forms. These papers include real estate deeds, business papers, lease agreements, loan agreements, mortgage papers, and titles and registrations for the vehicles you own.

  8. Financial accounts. Even if your bank accounts are all online, you should have a written list of all your accounts, including login usernames and passwords, for you or a loved one to have in an emergency.

  9. Insurance policies. Once again, your policies may be online, but your access to the internet may be limited. A hard copy of your policies, along with your policy numbers and contact information for your insurance companies, is essential.

  10. Appraisals. Original appraisals for high-value times, such as art or jewelry pieces, establish your ownership and the value of these items.

  11. Marital status papers. The documents include marriage certificates, divorce papers, prenuptial agreements, alimony, and child support agreements.

  12. Irreplaceable photos or hand-written letters. You can take photos or make copies of these valuable, but they are not the same as having the originals.

As you go through this checklist process, you may find that you need to make copies of certain legal family and business documents. Visit lawdistrict.com for help with creating these important papers.

Read more:How long you should keep important documents

Places to Store Important Documents

Now that you’ve identified and gathered your important documents, it’s time to store the originals and the copies in safe and secure locations. Here are your best options:

Safe deposit box

If you don’t need frequent access to your documents, renting a safe deposit box from your bank is an offsite storage solution. Your items will be stored in a locked metal box that is further protected by back security. The cost of renting a safe deposit box ranges from about $60 to $180, depending on the size of the box. Drawbacks to safety deposit boxes are that they are available only when the bank is open and the contents are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Lockable cabinet or safe

If you prefer to store important documents at home, you will want to shop for fire-proof, lockable filing cabinets or safes. Research these storage solutions carefully. Some are easy to break into and do not provide adequate heat protection. You may need to pay up for the best quality, but it should be a one-time expense. Also, be sure that at least one trusted person outside of your home has the lock combination or key in case you cannot access them.

Attorney

If you hired an attorney to draw up a will to help you with your estate plan, you might wish to store these crucial documents with that legal office. Most estate planning attorneys will store this paperwork at no additional cost. If you decide to go this route, keep up with any changes in the firm to make sure your documents do get lost in a move.

Digital storage

Another secure way to keep your documents safe and accessible is to store them online. As long as you have internet access, companies like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive can give you 24-hour access on your computer or mobile device. Although there is a risk of online hackers, the advantages of Cloud storage are many. For instance, you can share your documents easily with family members, medical professionals, and insurers in the event of an emergency.

You may find that a mix of these different storage solutions works for you. No matter what choices you make, take an inventory of your documents and their locations. Keep that list along with your home papers. That way, your family members will know about that safety deposit box or that online storage file.

Also, now that your important papers are better organized, you might want to shred old records such as tax-related documents over seven-year-old and utility bills and banking documents more than a year old. It can be comforting to know that you are safely storing what you need and safely disposing of what you don’t need anymore.