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Legal & Financial Paperwork to Have Ready for an Evacuation

BLOG, PERSONAL FINANCE  |  27 Jul 2012

We had been watching the news nonstop for days as the fire raged toward the city line. The smoke plume first appeared Saturday. By Tuesday afternoon, the wind gusts hit 65 m.p.h., and the neighborhoods due west of us were told to prepare to leave.

By 4 p.m., as the neighbors and I watched smoke billowing from the mountains, orange flames suddenly exploded through the smoke and raced across the top of the ridgeline. It wasn’t a fire anymore; it was an inferno that had tripled in size to something that Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called “a firestorm of epic proportions.”

And it was here.

Emergency responders raced toward the flames, cornering on two wheels, sirens screaming. The call came not long after: We had to leave.

– Melina Vissat June 29, 2012 (Christian Science Monitor contributor and person affected by the Colorado fires.

Many of the people affected by the wildfires that recently raged in Colorado had very little time to pack up things and leave before the fires raced towards their homes forcing them to leave with very little advance notice. The same can be said by those affected by tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes.

If there is a major disaster or an event such as a wildfire, chemical spill, earthquake, hurricane, etc., are you prepared to pack up and leave quickly to get your family and loved ones out of harms way? What I am talking about is a Bail Out Bag (B.O.B.) and what should go into it. A B.O.B. could be considered an evacuation bag that you have ready should you need to leave home in an instant.

Emergency

However, I am not going to touch on all the survival equipment, rations, necessities, etc., that should go into your emergency evacuation bag. All of that is very important and everyone should consider having a bag ready for this purpose. In fact, the Red Cross and others recommend the “Four P’s”, Photographs, Paperwork, Pets and Prescriptions along with a personal disaster and evacuation plan . However, I am going to just focus on the “P” of Paperwork and what important financial and legal documents and paperwork should be a part of your B.O.B. If you are not interested in a complete B.O.B. these are documents and things you should strongly consider having available at a minimum for a hasty exit should the need arise. Just ask the people in Colorado that had to leave their homes without much notice how important this can be.

Should a disaster affect your locale requiring you to leave your home in a moment’s notice you will want to have a backpack or a small fire safe that is ready to go instantly. You will also want to have important documents in a watertight container or large sealable plastic bag to keep things dry. Whether you use a duffle bag, suitcase, fire safe, backpack or some other method to store your documents is a matter of personal preference. The important point is that you are prepared to leave with these documents without having to spend much time locating them. You also have to consider the possibility that you may not be able to get back to your home for some time, or it could be completely destroyed. Many of these records will be important for you to have since there may only be one copy of them available.

So what legal and financial documents should you include? Here is a basic list of what you may want to consider:

• Birth certificates , marriage license, adoption and death certificates
• Driver’s license
• List of bank account names and numbers as well as credit card names and numbers.
• Important telephone and cell phone numbers
• Social security cards for everyone in the household
• Work identification badges
• Inventory of valuable household goods
• Passports
• Automobile registrations and insurance cards
• Loan documents and home ownership information such as a deed.
• Copies of wills, trusts, Power of Attorney forms, etc.
• Recent tax filings. Probably just the last year or two.
• Cash and change. Along with your bank ATM card. Power may be out and electronic banking may not be available following an emergency or evacuation. You should consider $400 to $500 dollars per person generally in smaller denominations.
• Children’s immunization records.
• Medical records if available.
• For pets, vaccination and veterinary records, photographs showing your pet and any other special records.

Storing these items in a home safe or somewhere secure in your house when they are not needed is also important so that they are not easy targets for burglars. Generally a small fire safe could suffice and at a minimum should be something every household has to store important documents.

Many people fail to realize how difficult life can be if many of these records are not easily available when you are displaced with short notice. Taking the time now to have this information available and ready to go in short notice can really help make a stressful situation less terrorizing. Hopefully you never will have to pack up and leave because of a disaster, but should that time come you will be glad you took the steps to be ready.