You and your family’s personal safety comes first when preparing for a disaster. Disasters can take lives, homes, cars, as well as all of your personal belongings. Having your financial, medical, and identification information and documentation safe is vital to start the recovery process.

Taking the time to protect these documents will save you from unnecessary stress following a disaster. You can also use this time to protect valuables, like photos and other priceless items.

Here are some things to consider when gathering your documents:

1. You’ll need to be able to identify yourself and your household members, including children and pets. This may include:

  • Vital records (birth, marriage, divorce decree, adoption, custody papers);
  • Passport, driver’s license, Social Security card, legal permanent resident card, military service identification); and
  • Pet ownership papers, ID tags.

2. You’ll need financial and legal documentation if your home or income are impacted by a disaster. This may include:

  • Housing: leasing or rental agreement, mortgage, home equity line of credit, deed;
  • Vehicle: loan documents, VIN, registration, title;
  • Other financial obligations: utility bills, credit cards, student loans, alimony, child support, elder care, automatic payments such as gym memberships;
  • Financial accounts: checking, savings, debit cards, retirement, investment;
  • Insurance policies: homeowners, renters, auto, life, flood, appraisals, photos, and lists of valuable items;
  • Sources of income: pay stubs, government benefits, alimony, child support;
  • Tax statements: Federal/state income tax returns, property tax, vehicle tax; and
  • Estate planning: will, trust, power of attorney.

3. You’ll need medical documentation to seek or continue care. This may include:

  • Health/dental insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, VA health benefits;
  • List of medications, immunizations, allergies, prescriptions, medical equipment and devices, pharmacy information;
  • Living will, medical power of attorney;
  • Caregiver agency contract or service agreement;
  • Disabilities documentation; and
  • Contact information for doctors/specialists, dentists, pediatricians, veterinarians.

4. You’ll need contact information for emergency services or other household obligations. This may include:

  • Employers/supervisors;
  • Schools;
  • Houses of worship;
  • Social service providers;
  • Homeowners associations; and
  • Home repair services: utilities, plumber, roofer, carpenter, electrician.

5. You’ll also want to protect items that hold personal or sentimental value to you or your family. This may include:

  • Priceless personal mementos, family photos, and keepsakes; and
  • Possessions with monetary value, including jewelry, art, and collectibles.

How to safeguard this information:

  • Consider storing paper copies of important documents at home in a fireproof and waterproof box or safe, in a bank safe deposit box, or with a trusted friend or relative. If you are using a safe deposit box, you may want to ask your bank or check state laws to confirm who can and cannot access the safe deposit box if the leessee dies or is incapacitated.
  • Store electronic copies of important documents in a password-protected format on a removable flash or external hard drive in your fireproof and waterproof box or safe, or consider using a secure cloud-based service. Visit http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/st04-019 to learn how to use electronic encryption to protect sensitive information.
  • This about where you store valuable belongings and ways to better protect these items. If you have valuable items stored in a basement, you may want to move them to a higher location and put them in waterproof containers to avoid water damage. You may also want to keep small items in a flood/fireproof home safe.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, you can call us at (800) 733-8394, at our disaster survivor hotline at (866) 659-0666, or visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org.