It pays to have important documents prepared, ready to go

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Rebekah Freeman

Hurricane season has begun, right alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, which means it is more important than ever to ensure we are all prepared for any type of emergency.

Usually, when we talk about hurricane preparedness, we think of what types of supplies we need to weather the storm or to take with us in the event of an evacuation.

But the conversation needs to include more than just supplies. One major and vital part of your emergency preparedness kit should revolve around your important documents.

Documents like birth certificates, marriage licenses, car titles, and your estate planning documents should all be kept in a place that is easily accessible to you in an emergency or easily found by those agents named in your documents.

There are several methods to use to organize your important documents, one of which is the grab-and-go method.

It is as simple as the name suggests. It means all of your important documents are organized in such a manner that in the event of an emergency, they easily found, grabbed, and ready to go with you.

The steps for this method are simple:

• Gather all of your important documentation. Wills, trusts, powers of attorneys, car titles, birth certificates, marriage licenses, children's medical records, passports, health insurance cards, insurance policies, etc.

By completing this step, you will learn about what information you have, what information to need to locate, and what information; like your estate planning documents, you need to create or update.

• Organize your information. Once you have gathered all of your important documentation, it is time to create an organization system to house your information. This step is unique to each individual and family.

One easy organizational method is with binders. You can purchase a three-ring binder, sheet protectors, dividers, pencil case, and other organizational items for a relatively low cost.

Once you have your binder or binders, sort your information into categories, place each document into a sheet protector, and file behind the appropriate tab divider. For large documents like insurance policies, you can buy pocket folders with holes in them to store those documents.

For example:

Tab 1: Emergency contact list: family, neighbors, doctors, vets, etc.

Tab 2: Personal: Passports, copies of driver's licenses, other IDs, birth certificates, etc.

Tab 3: Property: Deeds, mortgage information, etc.

Continue with tabs for insurance, estate plan, pets and such.

• Keep it Safe. Once your documents are organized, it is important to keep them in a safe location. This might be a waterproof and fireproof safe, or in a tote bag that sits next to your hurricane supplies. Choose any location that you will remember and can access in the event you need to "grab and go" with your documents.

Create a method for storing important documents that works best for you and your family. By having this information readily available, you have taken a huge burden off yourself in the event of an emergency and your loved ones if they ever need to locate this information.

Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center. hiltonheadelderlaw.com

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