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How to Prepare Yourself and Your Family

Disaster can strike at any time, and with little to no notice. Living in an area like Arizona, a lot of us are lucky to avoid some of the regular events that can affect many others, (i.e. blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.). But that doesn’t mean we are exempt from catastrophes. And our neighbors in California certainly know a lot about wildfires and earthquakes. Regardless of where you live, you need to be prepared. Building a disaster preparedness plan will ensure your family is well protected when disaster strikes.

Though some parts of a disaster preparedness kit are easy to remember, like food and medicine, others are not as obvious. The reason for this article is to help you and your family make an easy-to-follow guide so you can be as prepared as possible. One of the things that many people forget about is the important documents they need in the event of an evacuation. If your family suddenly must leave your home, and you only have time to grab one thing, make sure all these important items are in one place. The following sections are to help you organize and prepare.


I. Family and Identification Documents

Do you have all of the documents your family will need should you have to leave at a moment’s notice? Do you know where all of them are?  Here are some you will want to have:

a. Birth certificates – Copies are fine but have your birth certificates in the disaster preparedness kit to ensure you can prove who you are and that you are a citizen within your country of residence.

b. Marriage and divorce papers – These prove the marital status could be important in the future.

c. Adoption papers – If you have adopted a child, these are important to prove that the child is part of your family.

d. Social Security cards – Getting a new copy of your Social Security card takes time and may not be simple if your area is devastated in a natural disaster, so keep copies of the cards for all members of your household.

e. Passports and driver’s license – If anyone in your family has a passport, make a copy of it. Also, copy all driver’s licenses. These will provide a starting point for replacing these important forms of identification if they are lost in a tragedy.

f. Photographs of family and pets – Keep a recent photograph of all family members and pets so you can get help finding each other if you are separated.

g. Pet microchip numbers – If you have pets that are microchipped, keep a copy of the microchip tag number.

Have you ever tried to prove who you are without proper documentation? Having a copy of the above-mentioned will help you be ready should you need to get reestablished.


II. Financial documents

From your credit card numbers to your bank accounts, to the contact information of your bank and investment professional, you’re going to need some of these documents handy as you prepare for a disaster. If you flee your home with just what you can carry, make sure these financial documents with you.

a. Tax information – Make a copy of last year’s tax returns, so you can prove your income should you need to. Make a copy of your personal and business property tax statements. Should you need to get a new loan or apply for assistance based on your income during your recovery period, you will need this information.

b. Financial account numbers – Have copies of statements from all bank or credit union accounts you have, so you have access to the account number and the bank’s contact information. Also, make copies of credit or debit cards’ statements for the same information. You want to be certain you have access to your money.

c. Income verification – In addition to the tax statements, have copies of recent pay stubs in your disaster kit so you can provide proof of income if needed.

d. Insurance information – All insurance policies you have,  (life, car, homeowners and health insurance), should be copied and placed in your disaster prep kit. This will ensure you can get coverage or file a claim even when you’re away from home.

e. Information about bills and obligations – If you have obligations, like mortgages, utility bills and loans, that you need to pay monthly, make a copy of the bill or statement. This will ensure that you can access your account or contact information to keep current with your payments.

And remember, just because you suffered a disaster it does not mean you can stop paying your bills. Have these financial documents ready so you are well prepared or can call to make arrangements with these institutions.


III. Property documents

You will want proof of the things you own so you can reclaim, replace, or rebuild them after a disaster.

a. Vehicle documentation – Certified copies of titles, VIN numbers, registration papers.

b. Real estate documents – Certified copies of deeds for home and business, mortgage notes, chain of title documents.

c. Appraisals – Receipts or appraisals for valuable items or major purchases

d. Inventory of items in your home – Photos of valuables and a listing with each item’s description, brand, model, and serial number.


IV. Legal Documents

If your home burns down or is leveled in an earthquake, would you have to start all of your end-of-life planning from square one? Here are some important legal documents to copy for your disaster preparedness kit.

a. Will – If you’ve crafted a last will and testament, make a copy of it. If you have not created one, consider doing so immediately. This is the very minimum you need to have for a solid end-of-life plan.

b. Living will – A living will is a document outlining the medical treatments you wish to have or not have if you are seriously injured or suffer a terminal illness. The living will also names the individual who is allowed to make medical decisions when you can’t do so for yourself.

c. Power of Attorney – A power of attorney document provides someone with the power to act on your behalf for financial or legal concerns if you are not able to do so, such as if you are hospitalized in a coma. This should be part of your kit and your end-of-life plan.

d. Trust documents – If you have a trust, make sure you have copies of all of the documents relating to it.

e. Titles and deeds to property you own – From the car to your home, order copies of your titles and deeds, and place them in your disaster prep kit. Make sure these are actual copies from the appropriate government entity, not photocopies, so you can have legitimate proof of ownership.

f. Naturalization or citizenship documents – If you were not born in the United States, make sure you get a copy of your naturalization or citizenship papers.

It’s important to think of every possibility that could happen in a serious emergency and prepare accordingly.


V. Medical Documents

Make sure you are prepared in the event that a disaster might involve the need for medical care. Here are the medical documents you will need in your kit:

a. Insurance information – While it’s already been mentioned, it is vital enough to mention again. If you have medical insurance, put a copy of your policy numbers and your insurance card in your kit, so you can get the appropriate coverage in an emergency.

b. Immunization records – Keep the immunization records of your children and pets, so you know what they are protected against should you have to evacuate.

c. Allergy information – If anyone has serious allergies in your family, have a record of this information.

d. Medications list – If anyone in your family takes medications on a regular basis, list the medications, doses and the doctor who prescribed them. Don’t forget to list medications for pets.

e. Crucial medical records – While you can’t put all of your medical records into your disaster prep kit, you should include any information about serious diagnosis or procedures you have had done in the past.

Keep in mind, in a serious emergency, you will likely not have the option of seeing your regular doctor. Make sure these professionals have the tools they need to give you the best possible care.

VI. How to Store Documents in Your Disaster Prep Kit

Finally, take some time to plan how and where you will store all of these documents. Here are a few ideas to make it easier to store and grab the disaster prep kit in a hurry.

a. Have more than one placeKeep paper copies as well as computer backup disks in different places to ensure you have the best chance of grabbing the information in a hurry. Consider storing some of these documents in an off-site location, like a security deposit box.

                           – Use a safe – Invest in a metal safe that is both fireproof and waterproof to store these documents.

b. Keep them in a binder.  Put all of the documents into a binder that you can grab in a hurry, and keep the binder in a secure place

c. Store them near your kitStore these documents near your other disaster prep supplies, so you don’t forget them if/when a disaster strikes.

Preparing a disaster preparedness kit isn’t just a smart choice, we’re hoping you see it’s the only option. We never know when a potential disaster may strike, and having this critical documentation ready to go will keep your family safe, financially secure, and stable during a disaster that we hope you never have to face.

Resources: website justgreatlawyers.com (2023)

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Meet Margaret Tritch Buonocore

Margaret Tritch Buonocore began her legal career in Los Angeles as a litigator. She then moved to London where, after completing her LLM, she worked in international business and finance for almost a decade structuring corporate finance transactions, equity offerings, debt, and derivative instruments focusing on contract and securities law issues. Learn More…

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