Disasters Happen - Are You Prepared?

Wealth Management

By Nancy Skeans

We are only half way through this year and already billions of dollars of damage has been dealt to the United States due to severe flooding along the Mississippi River and numerous deadly tornadoes. Severe weather-related disasters generally spare those of us who live in Western Pennsylvania, but other types of tragedies are a fact of life.

Most disasters occur with little or no warning, so an important part of disaster recovery is being prepared to the extent you can at all times. Could you gather all your important documents with ten minutes’ or even an hour’s notice?  We recommend that you gather your information now and store it in a container that locks and is durable, fireproof and waterproof. This container should be light enough to carry and stored in a safe area of your house that is quickly accessible. If your container is not waterproof, use self-sealing plastic bags to protect your documents.

As you go through this list, you may already have the original documents stored in a bank safe deposit box. That’s a great start; however, you may still want to have copies of the documents accessible to you in the event you cannot easily or immediately access your safe deposit box.

Here are a few items you should have:

  • Cash or travelers checks. Keep only enough to last for a few days of living away from home for food, gas, or a hotel—local ATMs may not be working. You should have an emergency fund with a few months’ worth of living expenses established at a bank or in a money market account. This way, if you’re away from home and possibly away from your work for awhile, you have cash reserves available.
  • Identification. Put in Social Security cards (not just the numbers) for all the members of your household, including your children. Keep your expired drivers license here too. Include birth certificates, passports, adoption papers and any citizenship records.
  • Insurance policies. You’ll want the originals or copies of policies for homeowner’s or renter’s coverage, vehicles, medical and long-term care coverage, life insurance, and disability, among others. You should also include a contact list for your insurance agents and companies.
  • Legal documents. Include your wills (or copies), living wills, powers of attorney, marriage certificates, divorce and child custody agreements, military records, and titles to your home and vehicles (including campers, boats, motorcycles, etc.).
  • Financial accounts. Create a summary of account numbers and contact numbers for your investment and banking accounts, loans, credit cards and other bills. This information can be obtained from your monthly statements. If you keep your financial records in your computer, be sure to store a copy of your latest backup in this box.
  • Household inventory. It is difficult to remember all of one’s possessions and know their value, let alone document it to the insurance company—particularly all the little things that can add up if you have to replace them. The easiest method to inventory your possessions is to photograph or videotape them. One advantage to a videotape is that you can voice record the approximate value of items and state the model and serial numbers. You’ll especially want to have written, professional appraisals for valuables such as jewelry and antiques.

Besides financial documents, you may also want to store negatives or CDs of family photos; medical information such as prescriptions, doctors’ phone numbers, and immunization records; and phone numbers for family and friends.

By now, this box getting pretty heavy. If you are tech-savvy, a computer and scanner will allow you to store copies of many of your important documents on a CD or USB flash drive.

Rebuilding your life after a disaster can be a daunting task. However, advance planning and preparation can go a long way toward making the recovery process faster and easier. After you get your information in order, be sure to update it at least once a year. Even the best organized recovery materials will be of little use if they are out-of-date.


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Schneider Downs provides accountingtax, wealth management, technology and business advisory services through innovative thought leaders who deliver the expertise to meet the individual needs of each client. Our offices are located in Pittsburgh, PA and Columbus, OH. 

This advice is not intended or written to be used for, and it cannot be used for, the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties that may be imposed, or for promoting, marketing or recommending to another person, any tax-related matter.

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