Equip Your Financial Emergency Kit

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Emergencies happen. When they do, having your financial papers in order can save you money, time and anxiety in an already stressful situation.

The first step is to gather all your financial information and place it in a convenient, safe, easily accessible place in your home. If you have to leave in a hurry, you want to know exactly where the information is so you can grab it on the run. You will also want to make a back-up copy of everything to keep outside your home, in a safe deposit box or other safe location, in case everything inside your home gets destroyed.

Here are the things you need:

Identification: You should gather all of your own and your family's identification papers. This includes Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports for each member of the household, as well as your marriage certificate. In addition, you should have a photo of each person taken within the past year in the event that the family becomes separated and identification photos are needed.

If you usually carry identification with you such as your driver's license, make a copy of it and place it with the other material. Having all your identifying material available after an emergency will make proving who you are much easier -- which means that getting any aid available will take less time and be much less of a chore.

Cash/credit: When an emergency happens, you are likely going to need some money to help you through the event. Having a credit card with no balance specifically for this purpose can make the days after the emergency much less of an ordeal. In addition, you will want some cash on hand. In the case of a large natural disaster, power will likely be out, meaning you won't be able to access ATMs for money, and credit card machines may not work.

Important phone and account numbers: You should make a list of all the important contact phone numbers you may need after an emergency. This includes relatives and friends that you need to contact and financial phone numbers, such as your bank, your insurance agent, your attorney and your financial adviser.

This list should also include all contacts in your wallet, such as credit card contact numbers and any other contacts that would need to be immediately notified. Having this information handy is also helpful if your wallet ever is stolen. In addition, you will want to make sure you have the account numbers for any bank, investment and credit card accounts.

Policies and documentation: Having all of your insurance policies -- auto insurance, disability insurance, homeowner's or renter's insurance, life insurance and medical insurance -- accessible is essential to beginning to rebuild your life as quickly as possible. Be sure to also include corresponding information, such as doctors' names, hospital cards, immunization records and prescription drug cards. A list of all medications that family members are taking, if they can't be easily remembered, would also be wise.

In addition, you should have your mortgage statement and a complete household inventory for insurance purposes. This should include a written list, as well as a video or photos of all the items in your house. Include the make, model and any identification numbers when possible.

Will: In the event that something tragic happens and a family member dies or is seriously injured, you also want to have all the documents and contact information you need to deal with this situation. This would include wills, durable power of attorney, the executor of the estate, letters of instruction, trust documents and life insurance.

Computer backup files: One of the most important pieces of information that people forget to include with all these documents is a backup of their computer hard drive. More and more essential information is stored on your computer, making backup copies vitally important.

While it may take a bit of effort to gather all this information, doing so will be one of the best financial moves you ever make if an emergency does occur. By having all this information in a convenient place within your home and a duplicate copy in a safe deposit box or some other secure place outside your home, you'll have one less thing to worry about.

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