Financial first-aid kit often overlooked in disaster-planning

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Wealth Matters

Heather Belli, CFP, is a certified financial planner, certified divorce financial analyst and partner with Willow Creek Wealth Management (www.willowcreekwealth.com, 707-829-1146), Sebastopol. Wealth Matters (nbbj.news/wealthmatters) is a monthly column by the firm’s advisers.

Whether or not you suffered losses in the recent fires, every resident in the North Bay has been deeply impacted by this tragedy. From housing evacuees, to donating time, money and goods — to raking through the ashes of one’s former home in search of anything to salvage — each of us has experienced this disaster in our own personal way.

For those who did not suffer losses in the fires, there is a lot to be learned from the experience of others. As financial planners, we offer this preemptive guide to help you prepare for an emergency from a financial perspective.

Emergency planning usually takes the form of kits with food, water, other supplies, and plans for what you and your family will do in an emergency. Often overlooked, however, is your financial first aid kit.

Taking some simple steps now can help ensure that the tangible pieces of your financial life are safe and easily accessible when you need them the most.

Where are your valuable documents?

The first consideration for your financial first aid kit is where to keep your valuable documents. With temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees in the recent fires, most safes did not protect their contents. Guns and jewelry melted and documents turned to ash, turning precious valuables into a total loss.

Online storage

Digital “vaults” such as Dropbox, Box, iCloud and Google Cloud are secure ways to keep your important records. You can buy an inexpensive scanner or use one of the many services that offer scanning.

With the documents in the “cloud,” you can go to any computer and recover those important documents, including photos of your belongings, jewelry, wills and trusts, etc. in a few short minutes.

For items that can’t be scanned and saved digitally, rent a bank safe deposit box.

We recommend getting a safe deposit box at a local bank and keeping copies of these documents at home if you need to access them. For example, one of our clients had original bond certificates in her home safe. Had her home burned down, it would have become a financial hardship to lose them.

Identification documents

  • Precious family items such as jewelry heirlooms, baby teeth, etc.
  • Passport, and other Photo ID (for yourself and your children)
  • Birth certificates and adoption papers
  • Marriage license
  • Social Security cards
  • Military ID or military discharge records
  • Savings bonds or stock certificates
  • Pink slips for vehicles

Final things to consider

After gathering the critical financial items and ensuring they are stored either digitally or safely in a bank box, it’s a good idea to review them to ensure the documents are up-to-date and accurate.

In the event that ATMs and credit cards are not operational, having a small amount of cash available is also helpful.

Our community is moving forward with energy, hope and determination as we rebuild. Being better prepared ourselves and learning the difficult lessons from this disaster is one of the best ways to protect our families and our financial future.

Wealth Matters

Heather Belli, CFP, is a certified financial planner, certified divorce financial analyst and partner with Willow Creek Wealth Management (www.willowcreekwealth.com, 707-829-1146), Sebastopol. Wealth Matters (nbbj.news/wealthmatters) is a monthly column by the firm’s advisers.

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