We all know how to prepare for storm season -- by stocking up on emergency must-haves such as canned goods, batteries, prescriptions, and bottled water. But if you were displaced for a few days or even longer, would you know where to mail your child's tuition check or how to get in touch with that mechanic whose business card is tucked in the drawer of the desk in your home office?
You would if you had what we've dubbed a "Grab-and-Go Box," a financial emergency kit containing the essential items you need to keep your family finances running smoothly in the midst of chaos. Not only will having this box bring peace of mind, but it can also prevent a personal crisis from turning into a financial disaster. Here's how to put one together.
Construct your "Command Central"
Your Grab-and-Go Box should be small enough that you can run a mile with it tucked under your arm … or at least walk briskly around the block without it being overly cumbersome.
Your mobile emergency kit will contain copies (not the originals!) of some vital personal and financial information. Store it in a safe place, and tell everyone in the household plus a trusted neighbor or friend where it is. Let's go over the vital data you'll need -- the bare-bones information to get started. Add any items to this list that are essential to keeping your family finances on track.
The Motley Fool Grab-and-Go checklist:
Contacts: Note the phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses for family, friends, schools, medical and financial advisors, utilities, and service providers -- even the cleaners and gardeners. Designate an out-of-town contact for everyone to call.
ID: Assemble passports, a current picture of each family member, and birth and marriage certificates.
Emergency resources: Include some cash and prepaid phone and charge cards.
Medical: Pull together health insurance policy information; claim forms; copies of insurance cards; a list of hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, and current prescriptions; and medical histories.
Financial: Gather the information for your credit cards, bank, brokerage, mortgage, and savings account. Jot down all of the account numbers, the branch locations, the websites, the phone numbers, and the passwords (kept secure). Include the location, spare key, and content list for your safe-deposit box, and make sure a loved one or trusted advisor has been granted access.
Household: Document all payment obligations (mortgage, credit cards, utilities, and auto, student, and any other loans), as well as the due dates, minimum required payments, and other payment info. Online banking and bill payment is a real help in these situations.
Insurance/recovery information: Include homeowners', auto, life, and disability policies and cards; blank claim forms and contact information; and a list of local adjusters.
Legal: Make sure you've included your living will, health-care proxy or medical directive, will, durable power of attorney, and the deed to the house.
Make an inventory of your stuff: Just 42% of us have an inventory of our home's contents, according to the Insurance Research Council. Itemizing your assets gives you a running head start if disaster strikes. The Insurance Information Institute's free home inventory software at knowyourstuff.org makes it easy by going room to room and allowing you to attach photographs and scanned receipts. (Don't forget the stuff in the garage, basement, and attic.)
Compose a family crisis "to do" list: Before disaster strikes, get your ducks in a row with the help of two free downloads from retired estate and financial planner and disaster-preparedness guru Martin Kuritz. Head to active-insights.com/free-downloads.asp, and look for the "Disaster Preparedness Guide and Checklists" and "First Things," which includes what you should do right away after a family crisis.
Related must-dos for all Fools:
Dayana Yochim's Grab-and-Go Box is color-coordinated with her dog's leash so that she remembers to actually grab both, should she need to.