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Make a Home Emergency Binder for Important Papers

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 – pay your bills or at least notify your creditors of what’s happened.

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.

The notebook should include:

  • An intro with instructions, such as:
    • You might want your trusted person to access your bank account and pay your monthly bills for you, or you might not trust them quite that much, so you might just want them to notify your creditors to suspend your accounts or make some sort of arrangement.
    • 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.
    • Ditto on pets. 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.
    • Ditto on plants. 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 they may not know how.
    • You may want to instruct that if it looks like you’ll be out of commission for months, your trusted relative or friend should temporarily suspend such services as Netflix, cable or telephone. Most services and utilities allow customers to suspend services for at least a few months in the event of lengthy vacations or illness.
    • Instructions on where to find your upcoming appointments that might need to be canceled.
  • A list of your monthly creditors – utilities, mortgage holder, car loan, credit cards, cell phone, cable, Netflix, etc. Include account numbers and whatever identification your trusted person will need to make changes to your accounts.
  • If you want them to use any of your credit cards online, photocopy the card front and back.
  • Notes about when your bills’ due dates tend to fall and how you receive notices of bills due. Which statements do you receive in the mail, and which do you get by email?
  • Your email address and password where you receive bills or statements.
  • Notes about subscription services that you might want to have suspended if you’re going to be away from home for a month or longer.
  • Your employers’ contact information, so they can be notified of what’s going on.
  • Your medical insurance information.
  • Your will.
  • Any living will instructions, such as what to do if you’re being kept alive by machinery, or a DNS order.
  • Life insurance information
  • Names of your current doctors and veterinarians, if applicable
  • Notes about any allergies you or anyone in your household has
  • Deed/title/mortgage papers on your home
  • Allergy information for you and your family (you may have this memorized, but if you need to let your kids stay with someone for a couple of days, this is a handy thing to give them)