Protecting Important Documents From Water Damage and Fires
In the event of a flood, fire, or another type of damage to our home, most of us worry about possessions first. However, replacing important documents like your passport, birth certificate, and tax records can be a costly headache. Avoid the expense and long lines by protecting important documents against fires and water damage.
Protecting Important Documents With a Disaster-Proof Storage Box
For protecting important documents, we recommend using a fireproof and waterproof storage box. There are many options available at a variety of price points but a simple model with an airtight lid is the only necessity.
Choose a disaster-proof storage box that is large enough to keep your most important documents. While many models come with a lock, it’s not absolutely necessary. The primary focus is on protecting your documents from water and fire damage, not for securing them from theft.
If your model has a look, make sure you keep the key in an easily accessible location. Although it will protect against water damage and fires, it’s best to take these documents with you if you evacuate.
What Documents Should You Protect?
While it’s relatively easy to replace most things, protecting important documents saves you from needing to track them down.
Personal Documents to Protect
You should protect as many personal documents as possible. Include your original birth, marriage, and death certificates, divorce decrees, adoption records, and immigration papers. While you likely carry your drivers license or state-issued identification card on you, keep a photocopy of both sides in the event that you lose the original. Unless you need them, you should keep your Social Security Card and passport inside as well. You may consider including diplomas and military documents as well.
Property Documents to Protect
Other important documents to protect include the deed to your home and other property you own. This includes mortgage and closing statements, as well as your account numbers and contact information for your lenders and insurance company. For your cars, include your titles, loan statements, account numbers, and relevant contact information. Also include appraisal documents for valuables like jewelry, art, and collectibles.
Financial and Estate Documents to Protect
Online banking makes it easier to keep track of your financial records, however, you should include your account numbers and the name of financial institutions in your storage box just in case. Other financial documents to protect include stock and bond certificates, account numbers for retirement or investment accounts, tax records, and relevant contact information. You should also include your will and other estate planning documents, as well as the name and contact information for your executor.
Medical Documents to Protect
Many hospitals have digitized their records, however, you should at least include a copy of your health insurance cards. If you have a medical condition, keep a list of doctor’s names, contact information, and a brief history of your treatments. If you take regular medications, include a list of those prescriptions as a precaution as well.
Storing Documents Digitally
Many homeowners are choosing to store documents digitally today. While there is nothing wrong with this in most cases, it does require an operational computer or mobile device with an internet connection. Power and data lines are often damaged in natural disasters, which may make accessing those documents difficult. If you choose to store important documents digitally, we recommend downloading files before the storm. Print out important account numbers and phone numbers to ensure you have access to them if your computer or mobile device isn’t working.
Document Your Possessions As Well
In addition to protecting important documents, you should also take photos or video of the items inside your home at least once a year. This provides an added level of protection for insurance claims. Remember to take photos of the model numbers and receipts for major purchases, as well as of heirlooms, artwork, and collectibles. Store these photos or videos inside the protective box. Alternatively, keep copies on a private document storage service.
Review Your Insurance Policy Every Year
You should also review your insurance policy at least once a year. If you have any questions about your coverage, contact your insurance agent for clarification. It’s also important to note that flood damage is not covered by standard insurance policies. The average cost for separate flood insurance is $700 per year.
How to Replace Important Documents
In the event that important documents are damaged or destroyed in a disaster, these resources will help you replace them. Most vital records offices will charge a fee for duplicate documents. Fees will vary by location and institution. Some offices may offer online resources for requesting replacement documents, while others may require you to visit the office in person.
Replacing Identification Cards
In order to replace most identification cards, you will need to provide other forms of ID. Most vital records offices require a photo ID with your full name and date of birth. Some agencies may also require documents that include your Social Security number and address as well.
To replace your driver’s license or state-issued identification card, contact the state motor vehicle agency that issued the document.
Replacement Social Security cards are available through the Social Security Administration. In some cases, you may be able to apply for a replacement Social Security card at ssa.gov/myaccount. Certain restrictions apply.
Replacing Birth and Death Records
You can obtain replacement birth and death certificates through the vital records office in the county where the original document was issued.
Replacing Marriage and Divorce Records
Marriage certificates are available from the vital records office in the state where your marriage ceremony was performed.
Divorce decrees, which include specific details of a divorce, are available from the county clerks office associated with the court that terminated your marriage. A divorce certificate, which does not include details of a divorce, is available from the vital records office in the state where your marriage was terminated. You may only need one of these documents, so review the differences before making a document request.
For marriages or divorces that occurred outside the United States, contact the embassy or consulate of that country for replacement certificates.
Replacing Property Documents
The financial institution that oversees home and car loans can replace mortgage and car documents. Replacement property deeds are available from the office of the register of deeds in your county. To replace a car title, contact your state motor vehicle department.
Replacing Financial and Estate Documents
For bank statements and account information, contact your financial institutions. Replacement tax returns are available direct from the Internal Revenue Service for a fee. The IRS will wave the document fees if a Federal natural disaster is declared. To replace Federally issued savings bonds, contact the U.S. Department of the Treasury. For a replacement copy of your will, contact the executor of your estate.
Nationwide Restoration Services
Restoration Local is the nation’s largest network of restoration companies. The restoration companies in our network offer water damage, fire damage, mold removal, and biohazard cleanup services. If you need restoration services, find a local restoration company near you now. For immediate service, call 1-888-443-3110 to talk to our on-call restoration company in your area. Our on-call emergency response companies offer 24-hour services, 30-minute response time, and a free estimate for restoration services.