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Help clients make a swift evacuation from Hurricane Irma with this checklist

These important documents should either be with the client/owner or stored somewhere safely out of harm's way

Sep 7, 2017 @ 4:27 pm

By Geoffrey A. Simon

A photo taken on Sept. 6, 2017 shows damage outside
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A photo taken on Sept. 6, 2017 shows damage outside "Le flamboyant" hotel and resort in Marigot, on the Bay of Nettle, on the island of Saint-Martin in the northeast Caribbean, after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (Photo credit should read LIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images) (AFP/Getty Images)

Planning ahead for an unexpected storm or fire can help protect your clients' personal and financial well-being. Consider these recommendations for sharing with clients to help them protect important documents and make a swift, safe evacuation. (And this isn't bad advice for financial advisers to take themselves!)

SAVING IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS

If a fire, hurricane or other natural disaster occurs, the documents needed to rebuild one's life should either be with the client/owner or stored somewhere safely out of harm's way. Waterproof, fireproof safes offer protection for most important items, offering a level of security in the event of a last-minute evacuation. But also consider placing them in a three-ring binder with pockets for easy portability, and store within a water resistant bag. Waterproof and fireproof boxes are usually quite heavy, but a heavy-duty waterproof bag from a sporting goods store or large, re-sealable plastic bag can serve as a lighter alternative. For disasters that can be forecast further in advance (like hurricanes), consider taking important papers with you as you evacuate.

(More: Advisers in Florida brace for Hurricane Irma's wrath)

When choosing which documents to bring, consider:

Vital records:

• Driver's licenses

• Birth certificates and adoption papers

• Social Security cards, passports, citizenship papers

• Marriage license, divorce decrees, child custody papers

• Current military ID, military discharge

• Medical and vaccination records and photos and ID chip numbers for pets

Insurance policies:

• Policy numbers and insurance company contact information for homeowners, renters, flood, auto, life, health, disability, long-term care

Property records:

• Real estate deeds, titles and mortgage documents

• Rental/lease agreement

• Auto/boat/RV registration and titles

• Video, photos or a list of household inventory

Medical information:

• Immunization and medical records

• Prescription information (drug name and dosage)

• Health insurance ID cards, physician names and phone numbers

• Powers-of-attorney for health care, and living wills

(More: Harvey may be among the world's most costly recent catastrophes)

Estate planning documents:

• Wills, trusts, powers-of-attorney, attorney names and numbers

Financial records:

• Previous year's federal tax returns

• Investment records/certificates,

• Bank, brokerage and retirement account information

• Credit card, checking and savings account numbers

• Contact information for financial institutions/advisers and credit card companies

Personal records:

• Address book

• Backups of important computer files

• List of usernames and passwords for online accounts

• Account information for utilities and other services

While many of these documents can be replaced, keeping them safe will make insurance claims and other recovery activities easier.

PREPARING YOUR EMERGENCY BAG

Proponents of preparedness recommend keeping a small bag packed with essentials for a quick escape. The emergency bag should remain ready to go at all times, perfect for an unanticipated evacuation. That water-resistant duffel bag or knapsack can include items such as:

• The important documents binder

• Photos or video of property for later insurance claims

• Safe deposit box key, if applicable

• Notepad and pen

• Flashlight

• Small first-aid kit

• Bottled water and nonperishable snacks

• Extra re-sealable bags

An additional "quick grab" list will ensure items that would be inconvenient to keep in the emergency bag at all times, won't be forgotten. Examples include:

• Back-up of the computer, especially if it stores personal information

• Cash for food and gas, as ATMs may not be in service

• Required medications

• Phone or tablet and chargers

(More: Harvey tests whether advisers need more emergency planning)

PLANNING FOR PETS

If conditions are unsafe for your clients, they're unsafe for their pets as well. Research in advance which public shelters, lodging facilities or kennels can take care of pets if they cannot be evacuated with the family. For exotic pets, try contacting local pet stores or zoological gardens located in a safe area. The local SPCA or other pet-oriented organization can also likely provide information.

Additional steps to prepare for pets in a disaster include:

• Making copies of the pet's updated immunization records

• Filling out a pet ID card with a recent picture, description, contact information, medical details and care instructions

• Compiling a kit with items like collars, leashes, medications, food, water, treats, toys, litter/pans, first aid supplies and carriers

Depending on the type of natural hazards your area is prone to, additional provisions might be needed. But regardless of the particular peril, undertaking these precautions can provide a greater sense of security and preparedness in the face of an unexpected disaster.

Geoffrey A. Simon is managing director at Simon & Associates Wealth Management of Raymond James.

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