Tornadoes Devastate Midwest and South - What Should You Do?
By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD
Devastating tornadoes have wreaked havoc and caused death and destruction. While personal safety and rebuilding homes are a priority for so many affected, there is a general lesson for us all in this tragedy. We all need to be prepared. While that should include an emergency “bug-out” kit at the ready, there are financial and estate planning steps to take as well. These can help you and your loved ones get through a host of life crisis, including natural disasters. These are not substitutes for other precautions, but they are steps that many would benefit tremendously from taking. They will help you through health emergencies as well. If you have a heart attack or stroke, if a trusted family member has the passwords to access your key data described below they can step in and transition your financial, tax and legal matters until you can resume, or until other arrangements can be made.
Use Quicken or a comparable software product.
Don’t use it only for your checkbook, use it fully. Get every account listed in the software; complete the balance sheet items and more. This will create a comprehensive picture of your entire financial life.
Set up reminders to pay key bills or renew key insurance policies, permits, etc.
Get copies of every key legal document and scan them. You can buy an inexpensive scanner for as little as $100. Scan key documents like your deed, mortgage, will, any trusts, powers of attorney, employment contracts, tax returns, shareholders’ agreements and more. Its simple, cheap and easy. Don’t try to do this all at once. Do a little bit each week and in the course of a year you’ll have your entire “paper-life” on computer and safeguarded.
Most legal documents other than wills and certain estate planning documents might include a clause “a photocopy, PDF, or facsimile of these documents shall be as valid as an original.” Check with your lawyer.
Encrypt your laptop. As you add more and more to it encryption becomes critically important in the event it is lost or stolen.
Get an over the internet back up service like Carbonite or Sugarsync. They’re really inexpensive and can back up everything on a regular basis.
Make a “mirror back” up of your laptop and store it someplace safe other than your home or office so that it increases the likelihood of being able to get up and running quickly. On line services copy your data files, not software and laptop layout. So if you have a mirror back up on an encrypted portable hard drive, you can simple recreate your lost/destroyed laptop with little effort. The cost of the software to do this is pretty inexpensive and the cost of portable hard drives has continued to plummet. You can but a more than adequate one for most people for under $100. Remember to periodically update that mirror backup. If you use you laptop for work, not just fun and personal financial and legal matters, this is really essential.
If everything is destroyed you can buy a cheap netbook computer and immediately access all account details, financial information, records of bills to pay and more. This detail will:
Give you all the details you need to address service disruptions
It will assure that your key documents are safeguarded no matter what happens. Don’t rely on your professionals or others to have safeguarded these. They may not have.
The reminders and copies of key documents will help others step in if you are injured and address urgent matters for you.
If you are injured and you designated agent can find your power of attorney in a PDF they might be able to use it until they can locate an original. Don’t count on this, but if your entire town is devastated your originals may not be accessible, so it is at least worth a try.
The events in the Midwest and South were tragic. Take precautions now to protect yourself and your love ones financial and legal interests before a tragedy affects you.
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