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Identifying Key Documents in Times of Crisis

Unfamiliar times may bring unexpected difficulties, but if we know anything, we know that crises are a part of life. We may be able to limit the level of disruption experienced during a crisis if we prepare in advance. It is not uncommon for people to put together a “survival kit” that can be accessed quickly in the event of a disaster. Kits often include water, first aid supplies, and non-perishable foods.

Another invaluable “survival kit” item during perilous times is a “key documents” list that includes a list of all things of a personal nature that you or your legally appointed agents and personal representatives might need to know or access. The information contained in your key documents list and the documents themselves is pertinent and sensitive.  So, security should be a top priority but should be balanced against accessibility in an emergent situation.  It’s best to organize and protect these documents before disaster strikes, but it is never too late to start identifying them.

As you speak with your various professional advisers, including those in the legal, tax and medical fields, you will want to identify key documents that apply to your particular situation and how they should be stored and safeguarded. Naturally, there is no single list of key documents that apply to everyone; rather, the list will vary by the individual.  Depending upon the nature of the documents and the information contained therein, you may be advised to have a separate storage location for the documents themselves.

The following is a reference guide for documents to include in your list of key documents:

  • Vital Records
    • Driver’s license
    • Birth certificate or adoption papers
    • Social Security card
    • Passport or citizenship papers (“green” card or naturalization papers)
    • Current Military identification or discharge papers (DD Form 214)
  • Medical Information
    • Immunization record
    • Current list of prescription drugs, dosages, and name of the pharmacy
    • List of known allergies
    • Name and contact information of all treating medical providers
    • Brief medical history for each family member
    • Health, life, and disability insurance cards and policies
  • Estate Planning Documents
    • Last Will and Testament
    • Trust Agreement
    • Financial Power of Attorney
    • Healthcare Power of Attorney
    • Living Will Declaration
    • Funeral instructions
    • Contact information for estate planning attorney, personal representative(s), trustee(s), and agent(s)
  • Financial Information
    • Copies of the front and back of each credit card
    • List of all bank account numbers
    • List of all investment account numbers
    • List of all retirement/pension account numbers
    • Detailed information about any current income/benefits
    • Detailed information about outstanding mortgages/loans
    • Name and contact information for a financial planner, wealth manager, investment advisor, and accountant
  • Insurance Information
    • Insurance identification card or Declarations page for each type of coverage (i.e., homeowners’, renter’s, flood, earthquake, automobile, and long-term health care insurance)
  • Property Records
    • Real estate deed
    • Mortgage document
    • Rental agreement or lease agreement
    • Auto/boat/RV registration and title
    • List of household inventory
  • Contacts
    • Name(s) and address(es) of friends and family to reach in case of emergency
    • Neighbors who have access to your house
    • Employers and benefits administrators
  • Other
    • Digital assets:
      • Review carefully any information and guidelines as to use of log-ins and passwords and ability to name an “agent” in case of disability or death
      • Consider using an electronic password keeper for security
    • List of usernames and passwords
    • Location of safe deposit box keys and safe combinations
    • Inventory of important documents and where to find them
  • Pets
    • Veterinary records
    • Photographs in case you become separated
    • Identification Chip Numbers

Enduring a crisis may make us feel vulnerable. However, taking these steps to prepare is one way to establish a sense of control and provide peace of mind.