County Attorney Vince Ryan Advises: “Protect Legal Documents In A Disaster”

“A flood can happen before you know it,” warns Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, who is advising residents to be prepared to protect their legal documents.

Every year we recognize June 1 as the beginning of the hurricane season. However, even as many still recover from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, the unfortunate incident of flooding has devastated many homes this year well before this recognized date. It doesn’t take a hurricane to flood a home; Kingwood was devastated last month when 10 inches of rain fell in six hours.

“While you can file insurance claims for your possessions, there are some things that insurance cannot help with especially your legal documents,” said County Attorney Ryan. “When it comes to your important paperwork, you need to ask yourself a number of questions about the safety and security of necessary documents.”

  • 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 a copy of your policy and records of your possessions?

Be prepared this hurricane season by ensuring that all your legal documents are safe and you can avoid destruction or damage to them. A little preparation 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 at your bank. Keep copies electronically on your computer hard drive, on portable devices such as jump drives or in the cloud. 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. You should keep at least 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.

What legal documents do you need to protect and have copies of in case in an emergency? In an emergency, you will need 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, titles 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—especially 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 when the next disaster destroys or severely damages your home, you’ll be glad you have these documents available so you can start to put your life back together,” advised County Attorney Ryan.