When disaster and destruction are on their way, there is rarely any time to plan. We saw this devastation first-hand through the stories of our loved ones and the reports on national television in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Thousands of people scrambled to decide not only what was too valuable to lose, but also what they could physically carry. Having only a matter of minutes to decide, many ended up being boated off to shelters with only the clothes on their backs. Harvey and Irma have undoubtedly flooded hearts across the nation.

In moments like that, you have only your family in mind. Their safety is your first priority – how could you think of anything else? But wouldn’t it be great if, prior to the emergency, you had spent the time to think about the seemingly insignificant issues that are bound to matter in the wake of an emergency? Issues like having dispensable money on hand, identification, birth certificates, passports, insurance information, asset and liability information, estate planning documents, vet records, etc.

Amber, one of our attorneys, has family that has been personally affected by these exact issues. “My father, a somewhat disabled senior (although he would never admit it, because he’s that kind of guy), evacuated the Keys last week in preparation for Irma. He took exactly 24 hours to decide he was leaving, figure out where he was going, bring everything in from outside, put up the hurricane shutters, and pack everything he would need if he couldn’t come back, or had nothing to come back to,” Amber said. Unfortunately, that’s the mindset you have to be in to properly prepare. And if you’re managing this type and level of emergency for the first time, it can be overwhelming.

How Can I Possibly Make Sure I Have All of the Records I Need?

Most importantly, keep it together, keep it organized, keep it updated, and, perhaps, keep it in more than one place. It’s never a bad idea to have a back-up plan.

Perhaps you’re a fan of safe deposit boxes, which can be terrific in the event of an emergency. Just remember to keep the contents updated, make sure someone else you trust can access the documents if something happens to you, and, if you are evacuating, make sure to take the key with you.

Perhaps you have a safe at home in which you like to store important documents and records. Ideally, it should be fire-proof and small enough to take it with you if evacuating. Also ideally, it will be opened by a combination so you don’t have to worry about remembering the key. You may also want to consider giving the combination to someone you trust.

Some people simply keep their important papers in a physical file cabinet. While you can’t take it with you, you can have an “emergency folder” in the very front that holds everything you need in one place. Doing so makes it easy to grab everything without having to remember it all or rummage through folders.

Others keep an “online” file cabinet in the cloud where they can have access to everything they need from anywhere in the world. While this is ideal for things like mortgage, insurance, and estate planning documents, it won’t work for things like identification, birth certificates, passports, etc. So you’ll still have to also keep a physical file somewhere that you could grab quickly on your way out the door. And if you’re hesitant of the cloud, you can back up your personal computer on a remote server or flash drive. If using a flash drive, store it with the rest of your emergency documents and update it at least annually, if not more often.

As for your estate plan, if The Probate Pro has prepared one for you, we have retained a physical copy of the signed documents as well as an electronic copy. We can always email them to you or provide you with the physical copies if yours have been lost or destroyed. It’s just one of the many ways we’ve got you covered.

Hollywood Your Home

As if trying to piece your home back together after a disaster isn’t trying enough, you will also need to work with your insurance provider to claim all of your damage and losses. It will be helpful to both you and your insurance provider to have recent video footage or pictures of your home.. Being able to narrate your video and verbalize the age and cost of your assets, as well as capture the quality, will help to prove a more accurate claim and avoid getting caught up in claim hassles.

You can simply walk around your home with your video phone, noting the date and time of the recording, and covering each room with a brief narration of any important items that may not be immediately clear from the video. This should be done at least annually, or after any major renovation project. Incidentally, this can also work for estate planning purposes. If you have certain items you want certain individuals to receive, a video can be a great way to document those wishes and supplement your written estate plan for added clarity.

You can also utilize the IRS’s “Casualty, Disaster and Theft Loss Workbook” to track the purchase price paid for your damaged or lost items. This is a great tool for tracking the cost of the project if you are building a house or undertaking major renovations and want to make sure you can recoup those costs in the event of a loss.

Is That All I Need to Do?

There’s no easy want to say this, but no. Depending on the type of disaster you are preparing for, there’s an entire host of other important tips and tricks to help you prepare your family, pets, home, and even your business. We’ve just given you our top to-dos to make any emergency recovery just a little bit easier. A simple online search will pull up numerous sites from American Red Cross, UNICEF, FEMA, and more.  “Looking back, my father got a lot done in a short amount of time,” Amber said. “But what if he didn’t have even that long to prepare?” The best way to prepare is to think like a [flood, hurricane, tornado, fire, or other natural disaster] is about to occur. Consider how much time you will have in each scenario, and what is most important to take in the time that you have.

Peace of Mind is Invaluable!

Because preparing for a disaster takes a lot of work, it is easy to put off until tomorrow. But when you consider the difference in outcomes from being prepared to not being prepared, the peace of mind will be well worth the time and effort you put into preparing.

Incidentally, the same goes for estate planning. Many of our clients comment about the surprisingly easy process and how relieved they are knowing that their loved ones are cared for. You never know what tomorrow could bring, so contact us today at Info@TheProbatePro.com or 248.399.3300 to get started, or for more advice on how to properly protect your loved ones and estate.