By: Vince Ryan
Harris County Attorney
Hurricane season has just begun. We’ve all heard about being prepared with bottled water, batteries and other necessities for riding out a storm. But is your legal paperwork safe and secure?
If your home floods, will your important documents be safe? If you have to evacuate, could you quickly put your hands on medical records? If you file insurance claims, would you be able to provide your policy and records of your possessions?
Be prepared this hurricane season by ensuring that all your legal documents avoid destruction or damage. A little work now can make a big difference later.
First, originals of your most important documents should be kept in a waterproof safe at your home or in a safe deposit box. Keep copies electronically on your computer hard drive or on CDs, DVDs or jump drives. You can also store documents on the cloud where they are retrievable anywhere and anytime. You could also email them to yourself or to a friend out of the storm zone. In many cases, courts will consider electronic copies valid if originals are lost. AARP recommends that you have one copy of your documents in a portable file system or lock box you can quickly grab if you have to evacuate in a hurry.
Now, what legal documents do you need to protect and have copies of in case of in an emergency? First, personal documents such as birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports or naturalization certificates. You also need to safeguard your will, living will, power of attorney and any instructions you have left in case of death.
Also protect property records, including deeds and title to property and mortgage and closing statements. You want to keep safe any appraisals of valuables along with photos and videos of your property for insurance purposes. And, of course, your insurance policies—home, auto and health.
Financial records are critical: bank statements, savings or investment account information, stocks and bonds and tax records.
And don’t forget medical information, including prescription information and phone numbers for your doctors.
In addition to these documents, if you have to leave your home for a natural disaster, please take with you a copy of phone numbers of relatives and friends. You may not be able to rely on your cell phone if towers are damaged or your battery runs down.
This may sound like a lot of work, but if a hurricane destroys or severely damages your home, you’ll be glad you have these documents available to you to start to put your life back together.