Although the Boy Scout motto "be prepared" is a good rule of thumb for us all, recent studies indicate that Americans are woefully unprepared for emergencies that may come their way. Creating a vital-information file won't lessen the shock, but having the right information easily available may help you and your loved ones cope with a natural disaster or a sudden, unexpected illness.
Your emergency information file may be incomplete, outdated or still in an "I'll do it tomorrow" state, but now is the time to deal with it. Once assembled, keep your information safe, perhaps in a lockable, fireproof box or on a secure, encrypted flash drive. Give copies to a trusted advisor or loved one, and keep original paper documents separate, perhaps in a safe deposit box.
HERE'S WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
Key contacts: Names and phone numbers of people to contact, including: friends, family, attorney, financial advisor, accountant, insurance reps.
General documents: Scan or photocopy Social Security cards, birth certificates, adoption records, marriage certificates, divorce papers, driver's licenses, passports, property and auto records, deeds, leases, titles, insurance policies – and a document stating where to find the originals.
Medical information: Copies of health, life and disability insurance cards and policies, medical histories for family members, list of current medications and prescriptions, including dose and pharmacy, notes on medical conditions and treatments. Especially important: medical directives.
Medical professionals: Names and numbers of your preferred physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers.
Pet information: Include descriptions of the animals, veterinarian contact information and care instructions.
Financial information: Bank and investment accounts, copies of the front and back of credit cards, retirement/pension account numbers and beneficiary information, details about current income, benefits, mortgages, loans and rental agreements.
Estate planning documents: Include copies of your will, living will, trust documents and powers of attorney.
Online access: Logon and password information for all relevant financial, medical, email, social media or general accounts.
Automatic and recurring bills: Keep a list of bills that automatically get paid from your accounts. Your loved ones may try to close an account that should remain active to pay insurance premiums, for example. Include bills that get paid monthly. Rent your home? Add the name and address of your landlord so you'll have a place to come home to when you're ready.
County database: Add your name and emergency medical information so first responders can access it. Contact the police or fire department using a nonemergency line to see if the service is available in your area.
Don't forget to update your file at least once a year.
Sources: chi.adelphi.edu; smead.com; lifehacker.com; stcharlescommunity.org.
Article provided by Melissa Stewart, CFP®, AIF®, Financial Advisor at Blueway Financial Partners of Raymond James.
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