- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

Most people have plans in place for evacuating their children, their pets and themselves from their homes if a disaster occurs, but many forget about safeguarding their financial records.

With the arrival of hurricane season, it’s something to think about. Even families who don’t live along the coasts have disaster worries, from earthquakes and tornadoes to floods and fire.

“If you aren’t prepared, you end up in a position trying to put your papers back together when you’re already dealing with other stresses,” said Jeremy Streeter, an enrolled agent in Los Angeles.

He added that having records in hand will make it easier to file insurance claims and to seek government disaster relief.

Mr. Streeter, chairman of the disaster committee of the California Society of Enrolled Agents, recommends that families living in disaster-prone areas consider keeping copies of important papers in an “evacuation box” that they can grab when they are leaving their home for safety.

An alternative is to keep documents in a safe deposit box or to send copies to a relative or friend who lives well away from the threatened region.

“Keeping copies at an alternate site is a good idea,” Mr. Streeter said. “Unfortunately, it’s one of those things people are always going to get around to doing, but don’t.”

The society says that some of the items that should go into an evacuation box are:

• Copies of recent tax returns.

• A copy of the deed to your home, and a list of major improvements and their cost.

• Copies of birth certificates, citizenship papers, Social Security cards.

• Copies of driver’s licenses, car titles and registrations.

• A list of prescription medications, along with phone numbers for doctors and pharmacies.

• Negatives of important family photos.

• Copies of insurance policies.

• Important phone numbers.

• A list of bank, credit card and other important account numbers.

That may seem a bit daunting, Mr. Streeter says, but the alternative is laborious reconstruction.

“Frankly, floods are the worst,” he said. “They turn papers into papier-mache.”

The California Society of Enrolled Agents, which represents agents licensed by the government to assist consumers with their taxes, has a list of items that should go into an evacuation box — and procedures for reconstructing records that have been destroyed — on its Web site at www.csea.org. The lists also are available free to consumers who send self-addressed, stamped envelopes to the society at 3200 Ramos Circle, Sacramento, CA 95827-2513.

Jeanne M. Salvatore of the Insurance Information Institute in New York said families need to think about an evacuation kit that includes “a bit of cash, bottled water, prescription medicines — things you need that you might not be able to get.”

Among your papers should be receipts of important purchases for the home, because they can help document what your home and belongings are worth.

“It’s a good idea to have a video backup of a home and its contents,” she said. “And keep it outside your home — maybe at the office or in a safe deposit box.”

The institute provides information about disaster insurance on its Web site, www.insurance.info.


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