With Hurricane Sandy set to rock the East Coast, millions of Americans need to make sure their financial house is truly in order. It’s important to keep a back-up of certain documents that can be accessed following a natural disaster or emergency.
The goal here should be to make sure you set aside information that allows you to easily replace anything that is lost during the unfortunate event, says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.
Remember, though, it’s not just about what gets put into a financial emergency kit. It’s also important where you keep it. De Baca suggests storing certain information in a password-protected cloud computing source (such as Google docs) or a safety deposit box.
To make sure you aren’t financially stranded following a disaster, here are the key items to include in your back-up files.
Paper Copies of Your Plastic Payment Arsenal
In order to ensure you have access to funds following an emergency, it’s a good idea to photocopy the payment methods in your wallet.
“Take a Xerox of each and stick it in a file,” de Baca says. This paper replica should include both the front and the back of your credit or debit card so you can readily access account information, expiration dates and the customer service number you will need to call to have the physical card replaced. You also will want to be sure to include information on where you can find emergency sources of immediate cash.
“This could be a checking account, money market, home equity line or all the above,” says estate planning lawyer Martin M. Shenkman.
Following an emergency, there’s a good chance you will need to contact an insurance provider. To make sure this can be done readily, de Baca suggests also photo-copying all of your insurance cards, including proof of medical, dental, property, casualty, auto and disability insurance. Copies should be made the same way you replicated your payment methods. Make sure you also have 24-hour contact number for the insurance providers on hand, in addition to your agent’s direct line.
“A natural disaster that forces you from your home may just as well close down your local agent’s office for a few days as well,” says Jim Heitman, a certified financial planner with Compass Financial Planning.
Contact Information for Medical Personnel
According to Shenkman, it’s just as important to include the contact information for your preferred medical personnel in your survival kit.
This will let family members know who to call in the event of a prolonged medical emergency. In addition to ensuring you are treated by a trusted physician, it can also reduce the chances of incurring big medical bills your insurance will not pay once you have recovered.
Contact Information for Your Employer
If you are not going to be able return to work due to an emergency, you will need to contact your employer, says the National Endowment for Financial Education.
As such, you may want to supply someone outside your home with your employer’s contact information so they can get in touch with them when you cannot. It may also be a good idea to review the information on the Department of Labor’s website regarding the Family Medical and Leave Act so you know what to do if you anticipate being out of work for a prolonged period of time, NEFE says.
Information on Your Investment Accounts
Make sure to also include copies of financial documents verifying your existing investment accounts, de Baca says. This may include any mutual funds, IRAs, bonds or stocks that are in your name. It should also include information on any employer-sponsored 401(k), 529 plans or additional retirement accounts. Additionally, you may want to include the name and contact information for any financial adviser who is overseeing the accounts.
You will want to make sure your money survival kit includes either a copy of your last will and testament or directions on how to obtain your last will and testament so that your family can execute your final wishes in a worst-case scenario. For instance, in lieu of the document itself, you may simply wish to store the name of the attorney who should be contacted following your death. At the very least, be sure to indicate who in your family has been granted power of attorney.
“This should be for property and health care to make sure the appropriate people have the legal authority to make decisions for you,” says Chad Carlson, a certified financial adviser with the firm Balasa Dinverno Foltz.
Passwords to All Your Existing Financial Accounts
While you yourself may have all your account passwords memorized, it is still a good idea to include a list of usernames and passwords associated with all your financial accounts so that someone else is able to manage them.
“Keep a list of all of your info and passwords so your family can access your different accounts [or] bills if needed,” Carlson says. This list can be protected by a password that is only supplied to the person you’ve selected to oversee your estate in your absence.
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