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About Us


Winter 2005/2006

Safeguarding your Documents in a Disaster

The devastation wrought by the 2005 hurricane season serves as a strong reminder that disaster preparedness needs to be pushed to the forefront of the national agenda. Without a doubt, the aftermath of these disasters will reveal mistakes, successes, and a plethora of lessons in saving human life, property and infrastructure. But what lessons should this disaster teach us as individual citizens? How can we better ensure our safety and the security of our property in the face of catastrophe?

Experts agree that copying and storing key documents in different locations provides the maximum level of security and convenience in the aftermath of a catastrophe like a house fire, tornado, hurricane or earthquake. Safety deposit boxes, rented for less than $20 a year from many banks, can affordably provide piece of mind. For on-site home storage, consider a fireproof, lockable, strong box. Storing key documents in a compact location like a strong box will allow instant access to the basic information one needs to begin recovering from a disaster. These boxes can be purchased from household goods and office supply stores for as little as $25. Consider purchasing another box to store documents with a relative or trusted friend. Arthur Stein of First Financial Group offers the following guide to help determine what documents should be kept where:

 Document Safe Deposit Box At Home With Attorney, Relative, or Friend
Will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, living will, burial instructions
Copy of trust documents
Deed to home, titles to cars, receipts, photos of property, other legal documents
Lists of: insurance policies (with policy numbers), investment accounts (list account numbers), property, trusts, personal property, prescription drugs, names of doctors, employee benefits, bank accounts, debts, credit cards, and related information
Actual insurance policies    
Canceled checks    
Tax returns and supporting documents (keep at least seven years after filing date)    
Current bills, charge slips: Keep one year for general purposes and indefinitely if used to provide legal service as proof of purchase. Store with tax return it needed to substantiate a tax-deductible item    
Credit card and installment records (until debt is paid)    
Investment records    
Instructions on how to get into your safe-deposit box and inventory of contents  
Education degrees, marriage certificates, divorce decree, legal settlements    
Property ownership documents: keep until property is sold, then keep a copy of purchase and sale agreements indefinitely  

Source: Arthur Stein, First Financial Group, Bethesda, MD

For more information regarding disaster preparedness and a guide to create your own comprehensive family disaster plan go to www.redcross.org (look for family disaster preparedness under publications) or order a family disaster preparedness plan by calling the American Red Cross at (202) 303-4498.