Posted on September 18, 2020 in

Protecting Important Documents During a Catastrophe

It was late. The smell of smoke and ash in the air stirred everyone in the house awake. The bedroom felt warmer than normal. You remember setting the air conditioner to 73 before bed because it was a hot day earlier. Walking to the door, the handle was hot to the touch when you grabbed and swung it open. The house was on fire.

I hope this experience never happens to anyone, but it could. Homes can burn down or be badly damaged by fires or the water used to put them out. Similarly, wind and rain from a storm or hurricane can rip strong homes to shreds. When that happens, preservation of life or the lives of whom you are responsible for come first. After that, what will be removed from the house?

Many people keep important documents at home, and storing them in a place that could easily be removed or safe from catastrophe could make the difference between wealth and poverty. When considering how to store possessions or important documents, choose one that is most comfortable for you. Protecting your valuables by keeping them out of harm’s reach means you can focus on the safety of your family.

Home Safes
Home safes are steel lockboxes designed to store important documents or valuables. Home safes are typically part of a larger security system for the home, but a few general options stand out for understanding. Floor safes can be designed to be hidden as well as being bolted into the foundation but cannot be removed easily. Wall safes are designed to be kept out of reach of children or hidden behind clever pictures or TVs.

Protecting your valuables by keeping them out of harm’s reach means you can focus on the safety of your family.

Portable safes are small and compact, often weighing far less than the latter options. Most include handles or cables so they don’t “walk away” unnoticed. Different safes are designed to withstand water while others have fireproof ratings of 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for one or two hours.

Home safes have been a staple of the household since the medieval times when wooden boxes wrapped with iron were used to store titles, jewelry, and other keepsakes. Mass production of the modern home safe came about in the early Nineteenth century. Ranging from inexpensive and mobile to a multi-generational investment with complexities, home safes provide a great option for those looking to keep items close by.

Safety Deposit Boxes
Similar to home safes, these types of boxes are also made of metal, typically stored at a bank or credit union. Unlike home safes which are purchased by the homeowner, safety deposit boxes are rented for as long as necessary to keep valuables and documents stored in a vault. Rarely would a bank be blown away in a storm or burnt down. Banks will allow most anything to be kept in their boxes outside of passports, medical directives and living wills. These items should be easily accessible at home, protected in a different way.

Keep in mind that items inside of a safety deposit box are not insured by the bank or FDIC. The individual would have to purchase their own insurance (typically applied to a homeowner’s policy) to cover the contents inside the box, thus increasing the overall cost over time.

Finally, if the person owning the box passed away and no other individuals were given access to the box, it could be weeks or months before it’s able to be opened.

Digital Storage
It’s so easy in our modern world to be able to access documents at a moment’s notice via digital cloud storage. Of course, a person won’t be able to store valuables this way, but digital storage keeps documents readily available and safe. It’s important to note that most cloud storage comes with a fee, which can be shared in the event that a server loses power and information needs to be backed up elsewhere. Attorney’s offices are able to store legal documents for you either physically or digitally with a retainer fee. Other professional offices may do the same. It’s also important to note that the State of Florida allows for most legal documents to be copies, but not all.

For planning purposes, it makes sense to have digital copies of legal documents to be able to read through and sort on a computer. Powers of attorney, living wills, advanced directives, and trust documents are able to used legally as copies. Last Will and Testaments should be original or at least certified copies of an original, and this document should be kept somewhere safe. If this document is not an original, probate court will usually require a hearing, witnesses, reporting, and could come with a hefty price point.

Having trusted advisors to walk you through this step of financial and estate planning can leaven the shoulders of the most astute client. Either way, seek guidance from a fiduciary whenever possible. We’re here to help.

Derek M Oxford | CFP®️, AEP®️
Financial Advisor