With the southeast U.S. and the Caribbean in the middle of hurricane season, the top priority is revered for helping the elderly and infirm and keeping home and business structures safe when a major storm approaches.
Hurricane season, defined as between June 30 and Nov. 30 in 2022, can also wreak havoc on a household’s finances – especially if key personal financial documents – both paper-based and digital - aren’t secured and are damaged or lost during the storm.
With tropical storm Ian expected to hit Florida hard this week, security experts advise residents to take care of themselves and their neighbors, but also to safeguard their important financial documents as the Category Three storm slams into the Sunshine State’s west coast sometime Wednesday night.
“To help prevent a natural disaster from becoming a financial and human disaster, make sure that you keep copies of your important information and documents in locations outside your home,” said Stratus Wealth Advisors certified financial advisor Sam Brownell.
“This could include a secure cloud storage location, an external hard drive that is kept at a third-party location, or hard copies in a safe deposit box.
The Downsides of Losing Personal Documents
So why is it important to keep key personal financial documents like wills, trusts, passports, and physical securities safe during a major weather event like a hurricane?
Turns out there are plenty of reasons.
“First, some of the documents mentioned can be difficult or time-consuming to replace, and in the wake of a natural disaster people already have enough on their plate,” said Finance Buzz senior content marketer Josh Koebert. “Not to mention, you may need some of those documents in order to replace others.”
Those aren’t the only risks - having digital data damage can lead to major financial headaches.
“In our work with independent business owners, we often find that no one considers that one of the most vital resources in modern life is passwords,” Brownell said. “Without them, you may not be able to access your money or file an insurance claim.”
Tips on Keeping Documents Safe During a Hurricane
Once the home, property, and family are safeguarded, take these steps to secure personal documents.
“Waterproof, fireproof safes offer protection for your most important items, offering a level of security in the event of a last-minute evacuation,” the investment firm Raymond James said in a research note. “For disasters that can be forecasted further in advance – think weather-related events like hurricanes – it may be beneficial to take important papers with you.”
The investment firm advises people in the path of a major storm to especially safeguard these financial documents.
Identiﬁcation: This includes passports, immigration papers, military discharge papers, immunization records, and Social Security cards.
Family records and certiﬁcates: This includes birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, and death certificates.
Home and vehicle: This includes deeds, titles, registration, and loan papers.
Planning documents: This includes wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare directives.
Insurance information: This includes health, life, home, and vehicles.
Get a digital vault. Digital scans of documents are easily shared with anyone who needs to see your documents and often suffice.
A digital vault is an online security vault that securely holds digital assets and online copies of personal financial documents.
“Some of your documents (like a power of attorney) may even expressly state that a copy has the same effect as the original, eliminating the need to provide your original to people who ask,” said Trust and Will associate counsel Mitch Mitchell.
People should consider keeping scanned copies of a trust, a will, healthcare directives, and guardianship documents in their vault.
If you have a digital copy of everything, you’ll at least have a place to start if you lose your physical document copies.
“Ideally, keep a copy both on your phone and in the cloud,” said Child Free Wealth founder Jay Vigmont. “A digital copy of your passport will not let you pass through security, but it can help you prove your identity if you have nothing else.”
Use a physical vault. The originals of your estate planning documents (especially a will) serve an important purpose.
“Consequently, it’s vital to store the physical copies in a safe location, like a fireproof document safe or safe deposit box,” Mitchell said.
Make copies of all important physical documents and store them with your bank. “You should have multiple copies of all of your documentation,” Vigmont said. “Some documents, such as a passport, can’t be copied, but it’s still good to have copies. In particular, both you and the executor of your will should have a copy."
"The same goes for medical proxies, power of attorneys, and other key documents," he added.