The Fall is both peak fire season in the Western US and peak hurricane season in the Southeast. Furthermore, California is way overdue for a major earthquake. For all of these reasons, it seems now is a good time to make sure you are ready for a disaster. While there are many things to prepare for a potential disaster, my attention is focused on the critical financial items.

  1. Collect important documents. Keep in an easy-to-grab file, ideally in a fire-proof safe or safe deposit box, the following critical documents:
    • Passports
    • Birth and marriage certificates
    • Social security cards
    • Estate documents (e.g., will, trust, power of attorney, healthcare directive)
    • Cash ($100-$200 in small bills in case ATMs are down)
  2. Document your contents. Some insurers will make you itemize your contents in order to get reimbursed, which can be hard to do if your house is destroyed. It’s a good idea to create an inventory of all contents, either by narrated video or spreadsheet, and store offsite or in the cloud. Save receipts for large ticket items.
  3. Review your insurance. Make sure you have adequate life, disability and health insurance. Review your property insurance to make sure you have enough building and contents coverage. Over 70% of the homes in the 2017 Napa fires were under-insured. Make sure your current home address is listed on your homeowners and auto insurance policies if you’ve moved. Make sure all people are listed as named insureds.
  4. Automate bill pay. It can take weeks or months for life to return to normal after a disaster. The last thing you’ll want to be worrying about is paying your bills on time. If you miss payments, this can lead to a falling credit score, which can have negative consequences if you need to get a loan to rebuild, buy a new car, etc. To make life easier, automate as many of your bills as possible so that payments continue as scheduled.

These are just a few of the critical financial items that will help ease the recovery process after a natural disaster. For an even more comprehensive list, google FEMA’s Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAAK).