Grill / Plan to survive a financial disaster
Seeing the devastation and chaos created by recent hurricanes, you may have considered preparing for a natural or man-made disaster. But have you thought about how your finances could be affected by a catastrophe?
A disaster could wreak havoc on your household’s finances if you haven’t adequately prepared for it. If a disaster strikes your home or community, you may have only a few minutes to react. During this time, your main focus will probably be on keeping your family safe. When you hear emergency sirens or urgent television reports, you don’t want to be worrying about whether your important financial records are secure or you have enough emergency cash on hand.
Gather and organize documents
The first step to take in your financial preparations for a disaster is to gather and organize all your important financial documents and records. These can be divided into four main categories:
1. Personal identification records. These documents will enable you to prove the identity of your family members, maintain contact with relatives and employers, and apply for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (if necessary) after a disaster. These records include driver’s licenses, birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, passports and Social Security cards.
2. Financial and legal documentation. This category includes documents related to financial accounts, insurance policies, your estate (for example, your last will and testament), and your tax and ongoing financial obligations, such as your mortgage, car payments and credit cards. You will still be responsible for these obligations after a disaster, so make sure you can access these documents easily.
3. Medical information. This includes the names and contact information for your doctors, copies of health insurance policies and identification cards, immunization records, a list of medications you take and copies of current prescriptions. Such information could be crucial in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
4. Important financial contacts. There are probably a number of different financial professionals you deal with on a regular basis and may need to contact quickly post-disaster. They might include your financial adviser, accountant, banker, insurance agent and attorney. Store their contact information in your mobile phone or tablet for easy access.
Once these records are gathered, it’s a good time to review them for timeliness and accuracy. For example, is your homeowner’s insurance coverage still adequate? Does your last will and testament reflect recent changes in your family and financial situations? And are the phone numbers and email addresses of your financial contacts current?
Next, be sure to safeguard these records. Paper documents should be stored in a box or safe that’s fireproof and waterproof — or better yet, kept in a bank safe deposit box. Electronic documents should be stored in a password-protected format on a flash drive or external hard drive that’s kept in your home safe or bank safe deposit box. Or, use a secure off-site storage service to file them in the cloud.
Here are two more often overlooked but critical steps to take as you make financial preparations for a disaster:
Make photographs or a video of your entire home and your possessions. This will make it easier to file insurance claims for property that’s damaged or destroyed.
Stash some cash in your fireproof, waterproof safe. It’s possible ATMs won’t work and banks will be closed for a period of time after a disaster. Therefore, withdraw some cash you can use for emergency-spending purposes. Exactly how much cash you should stockpile depends on your family’s needs for such basics as food and lodging, gasoline, groceries and other necessities.
It could happen to you
Don’t assume that disasters will always happen to someone else. By implementing the prudent measures outlined above, you can reduce the impact of a disaster on your finances.
This has been a general discussion and should not be considered as specific advice. Always discuss your particular situation with qualified advisors.
Norm Grill, CPA, (N.Grill@GRILL1.com) is managing partner of Grill & Partners, LLC (www.GRILL1.com), certified public accountants and consultants to closely held companies and high-net-worth individuals, with offices in Fairfield and Darien, 203-254-3880.