Be Prepared for an Emergency

We at The Motley Fool regularly discuss the two best ways to prepare for financial disasters: adequate insurance (to cover catastrophic expenses) and an emergency fund (to cover living expenses until the insurance check arrives, among other uses). These are must-haves, nonnegotiables, sine qua nons.

But getting insurance and easily accessible cash aren't the only steps you should take to protect your personal financial empire. Here are just some of the moves you should consider:

Protect your stuff

  • Have a detailed record of your possessions to help with insurance claims and possible tax deductions. Videotape the contents of your home and keep the tape in a safe place away from your house, such as a safe deposit box or even your office desk. Record serial and model numbers for appliances and electronics. Consider keeping the receipts of big-ticket items.

  • Get professional appraisals for pricey possessions such as jewelry and antiques.

  • Regularly back up the information on your computer and keep the back-up disks somewhere besides your home.

Protect your paperwork

  • Keep important paperwork in a sturdy, fire-resistant, waterproof container.

  • Record the vital information of all important accounts and documents, which include bank, brokerage, and credit card accounts; insurance policies; legal documents such as a will or power of attorney; and personal documents such as birth certificates and passports. Keep one set of this information in a safe place outside your home. Also consider giving this information -- or at least a scaled-down version -- to a trusted relative in case something happens to you.

Protect your family

  • Have a communication plan in case you become separated. Decide on a place to meet, with an alternative. Also, choose three long-distance relatives or friends whom all family members can contact and leave information with.

  • Create an emergency kit, which should include a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, plenty of batteries, a first-aid kit, diapers and bottles if you have babies, essential medications, and enough water and food for at least three days (replace every six months if not used -- and don't forget the can opener!). Put all this in a box that would be easy to take with you in case of an evacuation.

  • Keep some cash or travelers checks in a safe place in case banks and ATMs are inaccessible.

  • Decide on two escape routes in your home and do a walk-through.

  • If you have children, learn their school's emergency procedures.

These are just the basic steps you should take. For a more comprehensive list, read suggestions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For more on how to get enough insurance, building an emergency fund, and getting your financial and legal documents in a row, check out How to Disaster-Proof Your Finances.

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