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Report From Hurricane Alley

With hurricane season upon us, the Fool wants you to be ready for anything. We've got lots of useful advice to help you prepare in case disaster strikes.

"The winds are blowin' harder now,
fifty knots or thereabouts."
-- "Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season," Jimmy Buffett
(Move over, Warren, at least for a moment.)

If you choose to live in Florida because of the climate, it is small 'f' foolish to ignore the flip side. Florida is a peninsula, and because of its latitude, tropical storms and hurricanes show up nearly as often as crowds of tourists. Capital "F" Fools buy straw hats in the winter and prepare for hurricanes when the sun is shining. But there's a lot more to hurricane planning than looking for an evacuation route on Yahoo's Mapquest.

It doesn't matter if you are a Fool living in Minnesota or in Miami -- disasters can strike any area. Here are some tips for weathering any storm:

  • As a Floridian whose family has lived here for generations, I can vouch for Florida Disaster Management's website. It's directed at Florida residents, but the information is helpful for anyone on the coast. While hurricanes are more likely to hit Florida than any other state, the entire U.S. coastline from Brownsville, Texas, to Eastport, Maine, is vulnerable.
  • Many people are underinsured for property and casualty insurance. If you're underinsured, then you might not get the money you expect. Insurance companies like Allstate (NYSE: ALL  ) , Prudential (NYSE: PRU  ) , and Travelers (NYSE: TRV  ) have historically had significant exposure to areas hit by hurricanes, but losses from Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina have many companies looking twice at continuing to offer coverage. Discuss this with your agent now.
  • Many Fools eschew checks or cash in favor of credit or debit cards. But when the power goes out, cash is king. In the aftermath of Katrina, even retailers in areas that weren't hit couldn't process credit cards because of damage to headquarters. Keep a stash of cash for any emergency.
  • Thirty years ago, I had one checking account and kept my car payment book (remember those) in the glove box. Give me a toothbrush and I was ready for the road. But things have changed. Now is a good time to list all your financial information: bank and brokerage accounts, insurance policy numbers, safe deposit box and key location, retirement plan information, copies of your last three years of tax returns, cost-basis information of assets and property deeds. Store this information in a safe location away from your home computer.  
  • Make sure a trusted friend or family member can find your birth and marriage certificates along with an original copy of all insurance policies.
  • Assuming you have a will, make sure that your personal representative can find it and knows who your attorney is. An alarming number of Americans don't have a will. If you don't have one, your family may suffer worse than many hurricane victims. Just get one!

Be sure to stay safe this hurricane season.

Fool contributor Buz Livingston, CFP appreciates your feedback. He enjoys kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico and believes most people benefit from professional advice. He owns none of the stocks listed. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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