With the southeastern United States and the Caribbean in the middle of hurricane season, the highest priority is revered for helping the elderly and infirm and keeping home and commercial buildings safe when a major storm approaches.
Hurricane season, set between June 30 and November 30 in 2022, can wreak havoc on a family’s finances — especially if key personal financial documents — both paper and digital — are not secured and are damaged or lost during a storm.
With Tropical Storm Ian expected to hit Florida hard this week, security experts are advising residents to take care of themselves and their neighbors, but also to protect their important financial documents as Category 3 storms hit the West Coast of the Sunshine State sometime Wednesday night.
“To help prevent a natural disaster from becoming a financial and human disaster, be sure to keep copies of your important information and documents in locations outside your home,” said Stratos Wealth Advisors certified financial advisor, Sam Brownell.
“This could include a secure cloud storage location, an external hard drive kept in a third-party location, or hard copies in a safe deposit box.
Disadvantages of losing personal documents
So why is it important to keep key personal financial documents like wills, trusts, passports, and physical securities safely during a major weather event like a hurricane?
It turns out there are a lot of reasons.
“First, some of the documents mentioned can be difficult or time-consuming to replace, and in the wake of a natural disaster, people already have enough,” said Josh Kuipert, chief content marketing at Finance Buzz. “Not to mention that you may need some of these documents to replace others.”
These aren’t the only risks – digital data corruption can lead to major financial problems.
“In our work with independent business owners, we often find that no one considers passwords to be one of the most vital resources in modern life,” Brownell said. Without it, you may not be able to access your money or file an insurance claim.
Tips on keeping documents safe during a hurricane
Once you protect your home, property, and family, take these steps to secure personal documents.
“Waterproof and fireproof safes provide protection for your most important items, and provide a level of security in the event of a last-minute evacuation,” investment firm Raymond James said in a research note. “For disasters that can be predicted in advance – think of weather-related events like hurricanes – it can be helpful to take important papers with you.”
The investment firm advises people facing a major storm to especially protect these financial documents.
the definition: This includes passports, immigration papers, military discharge papers, vaccination records, and Social Security cards.
Family records and certificates: This includes birth, adoption, marriage, divorce and death certificates.
home and vehicle: This includes bonds, titles, registration and loan papers.
Planning documents: This includes wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives.
Insurance information: This includes health, life, home and vehicles.
Get a digital vault. Digital document scans are easily shared with anyone who needs to see your documents and that’s often enough.
A digital vault is an online security vault that securely holds digital assets and online copies of personal financial documents.
“Some of your documents (such as a power of attorney) may expressly indicate that a copy has the same effect as the original, eliminating the need to provide the original document to people who request it,” said Mitch Mitchell, associate attorney at Trust and Will.
People should consider keeping scanned copies of the trust, will, health care directives, and guardianship documents in their basement.
If you have a digital copy of everything, you will at least have a place to start if you lose copies of your physical documents.
“Ideally, keep a copy on your phone and in the cloud,” said Child Free Wealth founder Jay Vigmont. “A digital copy of your passport won’t let you pass through security, but it can help you prove your identity if you have nothing else.”
Use a physical vault. Originals of estate planning documents (especially a will) serve an important purpose.
“Based on this, it is necessary to store paper copies in a safe place, such as a fireproof document safe or a safe deposit box,” Mitchell said.
Make copies of all important physical documents and store them in your bank. “You should have multiple copies of all your documents,” said Vigmont. “Some documents, such as a passport, cannot be copied, but it is still a good idea to keep copies of them. In particular, you and your executor must have a copy.”
“The same applies to medical agents, power of attorney and other key documents,” he added.