This was originally published on Monday, August 29 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
In Guam we take for granted the safety of how our homes are built, and that major disasters do not happen frequently. But as we all know, Guam is susceptible to strong typhoons and earthquakes. Disasters are not only from natural causes. Man-made disasters like a house fire can be just as devastating. Being prepared to evacuate your house at any given time is necessary. In addition to having an escape plan for your entire family, a financial disaster kit is a comprehensive file of what you need to ensure that your recovery process is easier and less stressful.
- Original documents. Your financial disaster kit doesn’t have to have all of the original documents. You should secure your documents in a place where they will be safe. Banks rent safe deposit boxes. If you prefer to secure them at home, use a waterproof and fireproof home safe. Many retailers sell different size safes that are affordable. Keep the safe locked at all times. Tell someone that you trust where the safe is located. You may also want to give them the combination or the spare key as well. Make copies or scan your documents before securing them. Do not keep your original will at home. If you die, your family members would want to be able to have access to it. Keep it with your lawyer.
- Photo inventory. Go from room to room and take pictures of what is in your house. If you have valuables or antiques, document the condition they are in. Take pictures of serial and model numbers. You may even want to take video of your electronics such as televisions to show that they work. Most still and video cameras have a mode to time stamp the photo or video. Use the time stamp to document when the photo or video was taken. Do the same with your cars, boat or other personal property. By having an inventory of your home you can make the insurance claims process go a lot smoother and receive a better settlement.
- Different formats. Keep your documents in several different formats. Make paper copies but also scan documents to a DVD or CD, a thumb drive or even onto an external hard drive. This will ensure that any agency you are working with can read the documents. You can also make a copy and give it to someone you trust in case something happens to you. You may consider sending it to a secure cloud where it can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection. Just be certain that the cloud is secure and that there are safeguards in place to protect your sensitive information. Keep your scanned and copied documents in a secured location like a safe.
- Cash. ATMs do not work when the power is off. Keep about $100 to $200 per person using smaller bills, nothing larger than a $20. Stores will be short on money as well and it will be difficult to make the necessary change for a large dollar bill. Don’t forget to keep a few rolls of quarters as well. They can be used for public phones or to wash clothes at a laundry mat. Keep the money with your financial paperwork.
- Letter of Intent. Write down specific instructions on what to do in case you are unable to represent yourself. A letter of intent is not a legal document but instead includes where your documents can be found, names and numbers of your employer, passwords for online accounts, physician’s name and contact and other detailed information needed to carry out your wishes.
- Scammers. Unfortunately, there are people who will take advantage of a person’s hardship. Be sure to protect your personal information as much as possible. Do not give out any personal or financial information over the phone or on a non-secure website. People may come to your door claiming to be inspectors or contractors. Ask family and friends if they have worked with the contractor or company before entering into a contract. Use your best judgment and listen to your intuition.
Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.