Well, storm season is here again. What is the best way to protect your important legal documents from damage or loss?
Hard Copy of Documents
We recommend that clients keep their important, original documents in a waterproof safe or waterproof box in their home, in a spot that is unlikely to flood (second floor, a high shelf). A safe deposit box is okay if that makes you more comfortable. But, if you choose this option, make sure that someone you trust (other than your spouse) has access to that safe deposit box in case something happens to you and your spouse. If you were to die or become disabled, you don’t want your durable power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and last will & testament locked away in a safe deposit box. If that happens, there may need to be an emergency court order to open it, wasting precious time.
An Extra Step to Make Transport Easy
You can purchase thick, waterproof pouches to keep documents. If you have these pouches handy and you have to evacuate, you can easily take your important documents from your safe or waterproof box and take them with you.
So Many Documents are Important!
How do you decide which documents deserve a special place? Here are the basics, although you may have others, depending on your situation:
- Your Last Will & Testament and any Trust Agreement
- Your Durable Power of Attorney
- Your Health Care Power of Attorney, DNR orders and other related documents
- Your Original, certified Final Decree of Divorce
- Your Passport
- Your Citizenship Certificate or Legal Permanent Resident Card
Although you may have other important documents, your space and time will be limited during an emergency. You will not be likely to take multiple boxes of tax records or backup documents. So, make sure those are stored in a safe place at home.
Which Ones Can be Replaced and Which Cannot?
Your Last Will and Testament and trust agreements are the most important ones to preserve because you only have one original of these. You can probate a copy of a will, but it is more difficult and more expensive.
Your powers of attorney are also very important, and may be needed quickly in an emergency. But, you may be able to use copies of those documents to get things done (depending on the language in the documents).
If you lose your certified divorce decree, you can get another one by ordering it from the district clerk in your county. But, if you are the parent of a minor child you may actually need the decree during an emergency evacuation. And, replacing the decree will take time and cost some money. So, keep it handy. Always keep an original as you may need it in various times throughout your life, such as when you apply for social security.
Your passport, proof of citizenship, and proof of legal permanent residence could be important in a situation where people are moving about due to emergency. Also, you don’t want to leave these important documents behind and have them fall into the wrong hands. The same is true for your social security card.
Digital Backups of Important Documents
If you have the capability, it is good to have digital pdf backups of the signed, notarized, and/or certified documents. If there is an emergency evacuation, you can take those with you easily by emailing to yourself or taking on an external drive.
How to Move Quickly
You won’t have the time to go through boxes to separate documents. So, have your most important documents safely stored and ready to go in case of emergency. Take the time to do so while it is still safe.
Above all, Stay Safe
If you have to evacuate, go. Don’t spend time looking for documents or objects. They can eventually be replaced. Saving lives is what matters.
Check out our home page, scroll down to see if you can get a free consult this month.