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You are here: Home > Organizing Advice > Emergency Preparedness > Organizing Valuable Papers for Emergencies
MyVitalFiles South Florida is often impacted by devastating hurricanes. New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi were literally wiped out by a hurricane. Earthquakes decimated other parts of the world while brush fires threatened homes in California. Emergencies can also include flood, fire, tornado, burglary and other unforeseen events.

As with most aspects of life, emergencies can be handled efficiently and effectively when done in an organized manner. Organizing instills confidence and peace of mind. Checklists and supplies arranged in advanced are key to emergency preparation. Supply preparation is heavily covered by the media prior to a hurricane. The focus of this article is for your valuable papers.

Is it worth taking the time to make plans and preparations in case everything you owned was destroyed? No doubt that the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi (or any of us for that matter) ever imagined being in the predicament in which they found themselves. Being caught unprepared only adds to the long term effect of a crisis.

Insurance statistics show that policyholders who are prepared with an inventory of their belongings recover up to 25% more when their claims are settled, than those not prepared. The claims process may go faster, more smoothly and with less stress. (As a familiar commercial indicates, these benefits are “priceless”).

Check with your insurance agent to determine if you have purchased replacement cost coverage on your home and personal property. Some homeowners’ insurance policies provide coverage for only actual cash value “ACV”. Your loss will be adjusted on an “ACV-actual cash value” basis, which means the insurance company will depreciate your damaged items, including your house, depending on their age.

The policy limit for “personal property/contents” coverage is customarily one-half (1/2) the value of your home (structure) coverage. The full value of contents coverage is not paid automatically. The insurance company will investigate to determine if the dollar amount of contents you claim is reasonable and provable. You must be prepared to prove to your insurance carrier that you in fact did own certain property if challenged.

Documents and Documentation

It is recommended that you prepare a written inventory of your contents (room by room) and take photographs or videotape to back up the list. Receipts should be maintained for your major belongings to help speed the claim process.

The front page or “declaration sheet” of your insurance policies, home, flood, health, auto and life, with policy numbers and your agent’s contact information is critical to have available.

Other valuable documents and items you could need include: the deed to your home, birth certificates, stock certificates, credit card and bank account numbers, passports, jewelry invoices and of course insurance policies (with policy numbers and company or agency contact information).

If circumstances require evacuation, additionally you may want to bring items such as jewelry, smartphone, passwords for online accounts, computer back ups, photographs (especially current ones of your family for identification purposes in case you get separated), personal address book and important memorabilia along with you.

If you are forced to relocate, resumes, college transcripts and degrees may be needed. Military records and discharge papers will be useful if applying for military and veteran’s benefits.

Immunization records and health records regarding health conditions will be needed for your children to enroll in a new school.

Marriage licenses and divorce certificates may be needed to set up bank accounts or establish residency.

Copies of mortgage documents may be necessary as well. Instead of carrying bank statements with you, a copy of your credit report contains all your account numbers, names and addresses for all your credit cards and other lenders. You can obtain a free credit report annually at

Copies of wills and trusts, power of attorneys and medical directives, in addition to the above documents are safest if kept in a bank vault.

Did you know that even if you lose your home, you are still expected to keep up the payments?

Safe Keeping
If you keep any of the aforementioned in a safe deposit box (at a bank), no worries. Next best is a waterproof, fire proof safe in your home. However, safes are rated as to what temperature they can withstand from fire and can melt. You will need to remove the contents of the safe to take with you in case of evacuation.

Inventory the above items on your check list (including location by room) so you can round them up quickly. Even better, all these items, including the inventory list should be kept together in one place, in a zip lock (water proof) bag for easy retrieval, in case of the need to evacuate your home in a hurry. Keep extra copies of each paper in your filing system for easy reference throughout the year.

Since all of this documentation could be too cumbersome to carry along, in case of an emergency, keeping them in a bank vault, or sending them to a relative in another part of the country are viable alternatives. It is suggested they can be saved in advance on a scanner then burned onto a CD or DVD for portability.

This article is intended to bring your awareness to detailed information and to help you START the organizing process. Further research or action may be required on your part in order to complete the details necessary to accomplish them. This includes discussion with your insurance agent and Time-Savers Professional Organizing Services to get your business or house ready. The point is, to quote another familiar commercial, “Just do it!”

Thanks to Organized A to partner Diane Hatcher for contributing this article. Diane, CPO®, is a Certified Professional Organizer and owner of Time-Savers Professional Organizing Services, Inc. in S. Florida. Contact her via or 954.252.7511.