I have the luxury of viewing pictures taken amid Colorado's blizzard from my comfy, warm office. The massive snowstorm, strangely, makes for a good reminder that we experienced mercifully few natural disasters this year.

That makes it the perfect time to prepare for the next big one before you're caught off guard. After all, we don't see disasters coming.

One critical component of your emergency planning should include financial records. You'll want to do two things when it comes to these and other important documents. First, you should keep the most significant records in a safe deposit box or at home in a fireproof and flood-proof safe. We'll talk about that here.

In a follow-up article, you'll learn that you will also want to keep a list of basic financial information in a place where you can easily grab the pile in case of an evacuation, or so you can access the information in case the power goes out and all of your electronic documentation becomes inaccessible.

Don't put this off thinking disaster will never strike. There's probably not a town in the nation that hasn't been hit by fire, flood, tornado, locusts, frogs, or some other plague. That said, I hope you never have to learn that all this hassle is truly worth it in the event of a major emergency.

Consider that the middle of a disaster is not the time to be rushing around hunting for your important documents or trying to move your filing cabinet to dry ground. If you ever have to evacuate your home quickly, you won't want to endanger yourself by spending time gathering paperwork.

Safekeeping your financial information can also help you get through some of the worst of times. Without having to reconstruct your financial and identifying information after a disaster, you can more easily make headway on dealing with the aftermath.

The first thing you'll want to do is put your most important records in a very secure place -- like a safe. This is a good place to keep identifying documents and anything that could be difficult to replace if lost or damaged. Some items best kept in a safe include:

  • birth, death, and marriage certificates.
  • passports, Social Security cards, and military records.
  • stock and bond certificates.
  • mortgage or property deeds, mortgage documents, and car titles.
  • adoption papers, divorce papers, and child custody papers.
  • copies of your will, power of attorney, living will, or related documents.

Add to this list any legal or government paperwork that would cause you a lot of trouble to replace. As an additional backup, you might also want to keep copies of your driver's license and insurance information in the same location.

Keeping a safe at home makes it easy to access these documents when you need them and update them when you need to. Get a big enough safe, and it also makes a convenient place to keep other important records, like backups of your computer programs and important photos. Your most recent tax returns might find a cozy home within all these documents. You might also want to include an inventory of your house, with pictures or video.

If you're more inclined to choose a safe deposit box, picking a site near your house may make it more likely that you'll take the necessary trips to deposit important items. On the other hand, you may feel safer choosing a site some distance from your house to minimize the possibility that the bank will be hit by the same disaster you've experienced.

You have all these documents in your house someplace. Spend a snowy afternoon gathering them together. With a trip to an office-supply store for a safe, or to a bank for a safe deposit box, you'll have this task done before the snow melts in Denver.

Some additional reading to prepare you for disaster:

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