Never lose important records or photos in a disaster

Wow, do you have a ton of documents! It seems like every day we get something we have to figure out what to do with. Some of these we save because they are important records, like insurance agreements or receipts, and some are essential to establishing who you are. An emergency is not the time to start getting organized. With a few simple habits you could make it as easy to get these documents as it is to check your email; you may even toss a few filing cabinets in the process.

Online storage

Scan and forget. I used to spend hours organizing files in my file cabinets, occasionally reordering things so that I could find records more easily. If you’re not doing this already, you can move almost all of those records online. Many of these are online already, why keep a copy of your healthcare agreement, when the entire record is already on your healthcare company’s website?

Some of the more popular online storage services include Box, Drop Box, Google Drive, and iCloud. They have both free and paid versions, and most importantly, download the app to your phone so that you’re never without quick access to any of your most essential records.

The game changer for scanning documents is your mobile phone. You can now scan documents as PDFs, a lightweight digital format that is also searchable, meaning you can search for the text in the PDF. When you scan your document as a PDF your phone will also automatically crop the PDF to the size of the document.

After you take a quick scan with your phone, give the file a very descriptive name and upload it to your online storage service. Now you can access this file from your phone, or any web browser. 

Password keepers

It’s impossible to keep track of all your unique passwords, and password hints are valuable clues to hackers. Do not keep this type of information in your online storage or in any note app on your computer, and definitely don’t write this information down on paper. Instead, keep track of all your passwords with a single password tracker such as LastPass or 1Password.

In addition to helping you create unique random passwords, and tracking all your most important website ULRs and passwords, these services also include encrypted storage for important notes. You can keep anything you want to keep secure, like social security numbers, insurance, bank or credit card information, padlock combinations, stored in your single password tracker. I find this extremely helpful when I’m trying to fill out something like a school form for one of my kids.

Documents and essential records

All of your records can be backed up online. Here’s a list of some of the documents you’ll want to save. If you’re really good at this you’ll find you can start throwing away many of the paper originals, and the extra filing cabinets with them.

You should keep a copy of your Essential records in your primary Go bag. The remaining categories should all be online.

Essentials records

  • Birth certificates and/or adoption papers 
  • Child custody records 
  • COVID-19 vaccination card 
  • Current military ID, military discharge papers 
  • Driver’s license 
  • Marriage certificate and/or divorce records 
  • Medical and vaccination records for pets along with current photos and ID chip numbers (in case you’re separated) 
  • Passports and citizenship papers (such as a “green card”, or naturalization documents) 
  • Social security card 

Insurance policies

  • Homeowners or renters 
  • Flood and/or earthquake 
  • Auto 
  • Life, health, disability and/or long-term care 

Medical information

  • Immunization and other medical records 
  • Prescription information (drug name and dosage) 
  • Medicare identification cards 
  • Advance directives 

Estate planning documents

  • Wills, trusts, funeral instructions 
  • Powers-of-attorney 

Financial records

  • Federal and State tax returns (Your CPA may be giving you a digital copy already) 
  • Home deed and other related records 
  • Automobile titles 
  • Investment records 
  • Brokerage and retirement account information 
  • Credit card, lender, credit union, checking and savings account information 

School records

  • Enrollment records 
  • Report cards 
  • Diplomas 

Additional records

  • Home inventory records 
  • Sports or hobby records 
  • Photos (If you haven’t already started doing this, scan your photos to upload them online, and set your phone to automatically upload every picture. Photos are one of the things people miss most when their home is damaged, and if they’re online you’ll never worry about this again.)
If you have to evacuate your home you'll want to keep paper copies of important documents such as birth and wedding certificates, deeds to your land or house, in a waterproof container like a Ziplock bag in your Go bag. 

What can you do right now?

Photocopy your most important documents, place them in a plastic bag and add them to your Go bag right now. Now, make a plan to scan your documents and pick a password protector. The goal is not to be done, but to do one little thing today that makes you better prepared for the future.