Here at Unconventional Wealth, we talk a lot about how to safeguard your wealth and prepare for anything to come — be it recession, depression or economic collapse.
But what about the physical side of things?
We all keep an incredible number of extremely sensitive personal and financial documents in our homes — from bills and bank statements to titles and tax information.
Maybe you’ve got a designated filing cabinet for “Important Papers” in a home office… or maybe you’ve got everything haphazardly stuffed into a plastic bin somewhere in the attic… Either way, you’ve got it.
But let’s say you and your family are forced to evacuate your home. Let’s say a hurricane is bearing down on your town and water is rising fast. Or — let’s say a massive wildfire is sweeping toward your home, hastened by ever-strengthening winds.
Not only is staying put not an option, but also your home and all your belongings may not be there when you return.
What happened after Hurricane Katrina is a good example.
After the rain subsided — and the excess water drained — folks set about rebuilding their lives. But many of the people of New Orleans found their efforts to rebuild impeded by one major factor…
The flooding was so extensive it washed away just about every personal document you could think of — birth certificates… title deeds… marriage licenses… Social Security cards… driver’s licenses…
The storm had effectively erased the identities of tens of thousands of New Orleans residents.
Without even the most basic forms of identification, they were stuck in an infuriating bureaucratic limbo.
Without proof of homeownership, they couldn’t request aid to help fix their homes. They couldn’t claim their insurance… access their own bank accounts… or apply for work.
And without identification, they couldn’t even apply for replacement documents.
Months later, folks would be able to claim a copy of their birth certificate from Louisiana’s vital records office. But claiming your own birth certificate after such a large-scale disaster isn’t as easy as you would think.
So what can you do to prevent your family from suffering a similar fate?
First, have an evacuation plan. It’s one of those things you may never need but will absolutely want if you do.
You should ideally be able to get out of your house in 10 minutes or less. Yes, really — that fast.
I promise it’s doable. But it does take some prep work.
If there are multiple people in your household, be sure to delegate everyone’s roles and responsibilities in advance. People should know what they have to do so they can do it quickly.
Keep a half a tank of gas in your car at all times so you can hit the road in a heartbeat. And have a couple 72-hour kits prepared — either stashed in your trunk or stored somewhere you can conveniently grab them and go.
Basically, a 72-hour kit (also called a bug-out bag or a go bag) is a pack with enough supplies — including food and water — to last you three days. There are millions of articles on the internet to help you figure out what to put in yours, so I won’t take the time to do so here.
What I do want to cover today is one of the most overlooked yet critical aspects of disaster preparedness — putting together a crisis kit.
For our purposes, a crisis kit is simply a store of all your crucial records — financial and otherwise. It should contain copies, both physical and digital, of everything you would need to recover your life as quickly as possible after a disaster.
Here are the documents you’ll want your kit to contain, by category.
Make color copies of your birth certificate, Social Security card, passport, driver’s license and any other government-issued IDs.
Take a moment to jot down phone numbers and addresses for family members (both local and out of state), friends, employers, doctors, financial advisers, etc. If things go sideways, it will be helpful to have all your important contacts in one place.
Be sure to include your marriage certificate and birth certificates for your kids — especially if they’re too young to have any other form of ID. It couldn’t hurt to print their school records too.
Lastly, you’ll want a copy of your living will if, goodness forbid, worse comes to worst.
Navigating our byzantine health care system is difficult on a clear day. Just imagine what a bureaucratic nightmare it would be post-disaster.
So you’ll definitely want your crisis kit to have duplicates of your insurance policy and insurance cards, plus any related documents — HSAs, FSAs, prescription cards and the like.
Remember to write down prescription details for medications — name, amount and prescribing physician — and contacts or eyeglasses, if applicable.
Organize your employment information, including documents related to any 401(k) or retirement plans you pay into. Make copies of your most recent tax returns (three–five years) as well.
Write down account numbers for any and all financial institutions — checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, CDs and so on.
And if you have certificates of authenticity for any collectibles you own — make copies of those too.
Your crisis kit should also contain records pertaining to any property you own, lease or rent. This includes the title to each of your vehicles plus copies of your insurance cards and policy.
Also, the title deed to your house (if you own) or a copy of your lease (if you rent). And of course, copies of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.
Last, but certainly not least, we can’t forget man’s best friends.
Pets are family too, so don’t forget their medical records and identification. (This is also important because some hotels and shelters won’t allow animals without proof of vaccination.)
Keep in mind this list is not exhaustive. If there’s anything you think would be a good idea to add for your particular situation — do it. Better safe than sorry.
As I mentioned, it’s important to have both physical and digital copies of all of the above.
Place the physical copies in a waterproof bag, along with an encrypted flash drive containing duplicate files. IronKey makes solid one — it’s got the strongest encryption available, and it’s also waterproof.
Keep your crisis kit in an easily accessible location — with your 72-hour kit is a great spot — so everything you need is ready to grab and go in an emergency.
Now, you may never have to do that. And I hope you don’t. But even in a best-case scenario, the peace of mind is worth the effort.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Natural disasters may be unavoidable acts of God… but digital disasters are completely avoidable acts of man. A solid VPN can keep your digital information safe… even in the direst of circumstances.
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Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...