By DAMON DARLIN
What is the first thing you will grab from your home if your house
floods, catches on fire or comes tumbling down in an earthquake?
Family photos? The pets? The Hummel figurines?
It probably will not be your financial and medical records, the very
things you will need to rebuild your life after a disaster. If you are
like most people, you have documents stashed in various places
throughout your home, perhaps some under lock and key. And with your
mind racing as danger hits, you are not going to have the time or
wherewithal to figure out which ones you need.
In any case, your financial and medical records would be such a large
and unwieldy pile that you would just say forget about it, grab Fluffy
and scramble out of there. Indeed, that is probably your reaction any
time someone suggests you get your records organized.
But wait. Do not run away yet. New technology is making this tedious
task less odious, and surprisingly, it is not that expensive.
All told, you can secure your records in a weekend afternoon. Even
better, doing all this has a wonderful side effect: it can put you in
better financial shape to survive a disaster because you will end up a
lot smarter about how you spend and save money. For instance, one of
the first things to do is compile a list of where everything is --
account numbers and the locations of important documents. The list
will help you or anyone in your family locate things you need for the
insurance adjuster or relief worker. (Download a template for this
information that you can place right on your computer.)
This is really the "if hit by a bus" list that financial planners have
been recommending you compile for your heirs. If you think of the list
that way, you will be reminded of your mortality and you will not want
to write it. But think of the families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina
and Rita or by California wildfires, and the psychological barrier
collapses. The list becomes a much easier sell now, said Brent Neiser,
a director for the National Endowment for Financial Education. "It
forces you to think," he said.
Here is what else you have to do to protect your records and yourself: