Make a Home Emergency Binder for Important Papers

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If something happened to you tomorrow, would you be able to take care of your personal business while you’re incapacitated? Or what if a natural disaster forced you to evacuate your home?

It’s unpleasant to think of these things, but while there’s nothing we can do to ensure they’ll never happen, there’s quite a lot we can do to make sure the financial problems that follow will be minimal. You’ll need to be able to notify creditors of your situation and prove you have the insurance policies you have.

The goal here is to create a binder that has copies of all your important papers, such as your home title and mortgage, your insurance policies, bank accounts, etc. You may be grabbing this binder as you hastily evacuate the house or you may be trusting it to a relative or close friend in case you’re incapacitated.

Irreplaceable papers, such as birth certificates, should generally be kept in a safety deposit box or fireproof safe. The binder should contain copies.

The Emergency Notebook

You can set up an emergency notebook – printed and/or electronic, saved on a flash drive or CD – full of your important business papers. This is something you can grab as you evacuate, or that someone you trust knows to come and  get if you’re ever temporarily incapacitated.

These papers allow you or the trusted person to handle your business as best they can.

Legal Note

If you want someone to be able to use your bank account funds to pay your bills, you will most likely need to set up a legal trust naming them as one of your trustees. It wouldn’t be legal for any relative who is not on your accounts to simply log into your bank account to pay your bills for you. Consult an attorney to understand your options and set them up.

Because this notebook is basically a guide to your whole life, you don’t want to store it somewhere that a thief is likely to find it, should someone break into your home. You could save it electronically and encrypt it (TrueCrypt is free), and then leave encrypted flash drive copies at your home and with your trusted person.

You could also put it in a safety deposit box, as long as (a) your trusted person can access it and (b) your bank doesn’t shut down in the event of a natural disaster. Dropbox and Google Drive are online storage options, if you feel safe storing documents in the cloud. If your trusted person just knows the login info and the path to your digital notebook, you’re good to go.

Emergency Binder Contents

Intro with Instructions

Banking info: Include a list of your bank accounts and creditors if you have a trustee who could use the notebook to pay your bills for you while you’re incapacitated.

Kids’ schedule: Notes on your children’s typical daily agenda. A relative might end up moving in with them temporarily. If he or she is able to keep the kids on their usual routine, that will make it easier for them to cope with the uncertainty of the situation.

Pets’ needs: If you have pets, make sure you leave clear instructions on their daily schedules and activities. Don’t assume everyone knows how to care for a dog or cat, let alone a more “exotic” pet.

Plants’ needs: No, seriously. If someone’s willing to look after your children or pets, they’re probably happy to take care of your plants while they’re at it, but may not know how.

Suspend Utilities and Streaming Services: If it looks like you’ll be out of your home months, your may want to suspend everything from Netflix to cable and electricity.

Doctors: Leave contact info for doctors and other appointments your family has so they can be canceled or rescheduled as needed.

Monthly Creditors: utilities, mortgage holder, car loan, credit cards, cell phone, cable, Netflix, etc. Include account numbers so you can make changes to these accounts easily.

Credit card numbers: all the numbers you need to use your credit cards, in case yours have been lost in an evacuation or accident. (This is also handy if you lose your wallet or it’s stolen, so you can call creditors immediately.)

Your email address and password: if you have your passwords stored in your computer or phone, you probably don’t have them memorized. Keep them written down so you can access them from another computer as needed.

Employer and School contact info: keep these so you can notify them of what’s happening and stay in touch.

Health Insurance information: Basically, all the info that’s on your health insurance card.

Legal Documents: should you need FEMA funds, you’ll need documents to prove who you are and that you own your home. Include deeds/title/mortgage papers on your home.

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Last Updated:

December 21, 2023