Protect Your Important Documents Against a Natural Disaster

As Californians, we are no strangers to natural disaster. Many of us already have evacuation plans, “go kits,” and other contingencies to help weather an emergency. But do you have a similar plan to safeguard your important documents?

Keeping documents safe and secure doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, especially if you plan ahead. Here are four tips to consider:

1. INVEST IN A QUALITY FIRE SAFE

Portable safes of all shapes, sizes, and features are available online and at retail stores. If you want something larger or more permanent, most locksmiths can install a hidden safe in your wall, closet, floorboards, basement, and attic. Make sure that the safe is air- and watertight and can withstand extensive fire, water, or structural damage to your home. You’ll also want to be sure that you and your family know the location of the safe and where to find the key or combination.

2. RENT A BANK SAFE-DEPOSIT BOX

You can open a safe-deposit box at a bank by yourself or with others. Annual rental fees for a small box in a bank vault generally range from $30 to $60.1 Larger boxes may cost more and can accommodate your important documents as well as irreplaceable photos, jewelry, and sentimental keepsakes.

Store your items in sealed plastic bags or other containers to protect them from water damage. Don’t forget to keep an inventory of your safe-deposit box and update it as needed. You also may want to insure it, either through your homeowner’s insurance policy or through a special policy. And consider giving a designated power of attorney access to your box in case you are unable to be there in person to open it.

3. MAKE PHYSICAL COPIES

It’s often easier to replace a birth certificate or other legal documents if you have a photocopy of the original. Keeping paper copies in a bank safe-deposit box or at the home of a trusted friend or relative is also an option.

4. MAKE DIGITAL COPIES AND STORE THEM ONLINE

You may also want to scan documents or take photos with your smartphone and store them on a secure online server. Housing your scanned documents in a cloud environment provides you easy 24/7 access via your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Many storage services offer limited cloud space for free—including DropBoxGoogle Drive, Amazon Drive, and FidSafe from Fidelity Investments. In addition to providing up to 5GB of free storage, FidSafe provides checklists to help you organize and prepare your critical documents.

If you need more storage capacity, other options are available for a fee.

WHAT TO KEEP

No matter which route you choose to go when protecting your documents, what really matters is having a plan in place. Here’s a general summary of the kinds of documents you should consider safeguarding:

VITAL RECORDS INSURANCE POLICIES PROPERTY RECORDS
  • Drivers licenses, passports
  • Birth certificates, Social Security cards
    Citizenship papers
  • Child custody papers, adoption papers
  • Military IDs
  • Pet records, photos, and chip numbers (if applicable
  • Homeowners and auto insurance policies
  • Flood and/or earthquake coverage
  • Life, health, disability, and long-term care insurance
  • Employee benefits documents
  • Any other policies you may have
  • Real estate deeds of trust
  • Settlement document from any mortgages
  • Auto/boat/RV registrations and titles
  • Video and/or pictures inventorying your possessions
MEDICAL INFORMATION ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS FINANCIAL RECORDS
  • Health Insurance ID cards
  • Physician names and phone numbers
  • Medical and immunization records
  • Prescription information (drug name and dosage)
  • Medical powers of attorney health proxies, medical directives, living wills, etc.
  • Powers of attorney
  • Wills, trusts
  • Attorney names/phone numbers
  • Funeral instructions
  • Federal and state tax returns
  • List of stocks/bonds, brokerage and retirement account information
  • Credit card, checking and savings account numbers, and who to call for emergency customer services

For a more complete listing, read Be Smart. Protect Your Critical Documents And Valuables tip sheet on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.

FidSafe® is not a Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC service. FidSafe is a service of XTRAC LLC, a Fidelity Investments company.

The third parties mentioned herein and Fidelity Investments are independent entities and are not legally affiliated

1 “Safe Deposit Boxes: What to Know,” nerdwallet.com, October 2016.

Investing involves risk, including the risk of loss.

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