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 may range from $43 to $225, depending on the size of the box, the financial institution with which you do business and what other accounts you have there.* Larger boxes generally 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 DropBox, Google Drive, Amazon Drive, and FidSafe from Fidelity. 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|
|MEDICAL INFORMATION||ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS||FINANCIAL RECORDS|
For a more complete listing, read Be Smart. Protect Your Critical Documents And Valuables tip sheet on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.