Household financial records:Be prepared…If your home was damaged or destroyed or if you were victimized by burglars, could you reconstruct your household financial records easily? Most folks could not. So, what should you do to be prepared?First, if you use an electronic bookkeeping program (I use Quicken), do you make regular backups and, equally important, do you store copies of your backups away from your home? “Cloud” computing makes offsite backups easier than traditional methods, such as leaving a copy with a trusted neighbor, with a trusted relative, at your workplace if that is an option, or in a bank safe deposit box. Trusting your neighbor or relative can be enhanced with encryption software or with password protection on your disc or files.Second, even if your bank statements or credit card statements or 401k or other retirement account statements are available “online” from the institution, go ahead and download them regularly to your computer and then make copies to store away from your home. Remember that you are preparing for the unexpected. Recently my bank was acquired by another bank. My online bank statements that had been available going back years are no long available on-line. I never expected the bank would be acquired and also never expected the statements would no longer be available online. Having kept downloaded backups has made my life easier.Third, if you have a scanner, use it. Scan and save your important documents digitally – and keep at least one copy offsite with your other important electronic data. It does you no good if your “backup” is in the house that has been destroyed. And, if the destruction is due to, say, a hurricane, then your next door neighbor’s house is probably going to be in the same situation as yours, so keeping a backup “away” from your home sometimes means at the relative in Dallas or elsewhere that is not going to be as directly impacted by the same natural disaster that hits your home.Fourth, make a copy of your tax return and all of the backup data and keep it offsite as well. Answering detailed questions about your tax return from years ago is probably hard enough with all of your data in pristine condition. Imagine how much harder reconstructing what happened years ago will be if you don’t have copies of the documents you relied upon to prepare your tax return in the first place.Fifth, think about keeping your household financial records in a plastic container with a lid. If there is a leaky roof or water comes in the house from a flood or broken water pipe, it might just be enough to save your records if they are in a rigid plastic tub with a lid.Finally, this is an ongoing process. Every month’s financial update, every year’s tax return. Your preparation will pay off richly if one of the unthinkables happens at your home and destroys your household financial records.
Household inventory:Be prepared …If your home was damaged or destroyed, could you fully document everything that was in your home? Most folks could not. So, what should you do to be prepared?First, you need a complete and current inventory. The inventory should at least include the following categories of data:RoomDescriptionDate acquiredCostModel #Serial #Categorizing your inventory by room where the item is kept helps both the initial organization and makes updating the inventory easier.Your insurance claim, whether for homeowners or renters insurance, will ask for this very data, so the more complete your inventory, the more complete your insurance claim.Second, take photos of everything. Digital photography is easy and inexpensive – both taking the photos and making “copies” of your photos. An easy way to have a great photo supplement to your inventory is to stand on one side of a room, take an overall photo, then take close ups of everything that is in the “big” photo. It is even easy to take photos of the serial number plates for your electronics and other items with serial numbers. After you photograph one “big” view of the room with its close ups, then go to another side of the room and repeat the process. You get the picture – you will have four “big” photos” for each room with numerous close ups for each side of the room. You will know that you have a great photo supplement to your inventory if someone else can look at your written inventory and find everything in the photo close ups – and not find anything in the close ups that is missing from the inventory. Don’t forget to open drawers and closet doors. You will be amazed when you think about how much it will cost to replace everything in those closets and drawers, whether you are in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, pantry, coat closet, laundry room, garage, or any other room in the house. You really cannot have too much detail when it comes to your home inventory.Third, make copies of your inventory and photo supplement and send them to the homes of one or more friends or relatives. It does not good to have a great inventory with photo supplements only to have it burn with the house or flood with the house or be stored on the computer that gets stolen by the burglar. And, since we live on the Gulf Coast, it would not hurt to send a copy of the inventory and photo supplement to someone who does not live in hurricane land. Yes, you will reciprocate and hold a copy of their inventory and photo supplement since they probably live in tornado alley or a flood zone of their own.Fourth, make sure you have enough insurance coverage. After completing your inventory, discuss your coverage with your insurance agent. Is replacement cost insurance available and at what cost? Are there items on your inventory that need to be specifically listed (or “scheduled”) in order to be covered by your policy? Do you need extra coverage for jewelry or electronics or other items that have limited coverage?Fifth, keep your inventory updated. Again, the more accurate the inventory, the more complete your claim in the event one of the unthinkables happens at your home.While this sounds like a daunting task, the holidays are near. Let the entire family join in the fun of creating the inventory, taking the photos, and making the copies for safekeeping at the home of the visiting relative or friend.
Medical records:Be prepared…Even though “paper” medical records are becoming a relic of the past, do not leave yourself at the mercy of overworked clerks when you need your records.You are entitled to have copies of your medical records from every healthcare provider you see for any reason. It is easiest if you keep your copy of your records current – collect them as you go along rather than waiting until a specific need arises (and when you may be in a hurry to have the records).Also, do not be shy about asking for copies of your medical imaging studies – the MRI or CT scan or x-ray. These images are routinely maintained in digital formats and the imaging center or hospital can readily provide you a disc with the study along with the narrative report of the radiologist who interprets the study.Be in charge of your health and your healthcare records.