Surviving Spouse Corner: Are Your Personal Documents Ready for an Emergency?

Surviving Spouse Corner: Are Your Personal Documents Ready for an Emergency?
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Emergencies can strike unexpectedly, leaving individuals and families grappling with chaos and uncertainty. Whether it's a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake, a house fire, or a medical crisis, being prepared can make all the difference in navigating through the turmoil. One often-overlooked aspect of preparedness is having essential documents readily accessible for yourself or a trusted person.


It might sound simple, but having your important documents organized and easily accessible can significantly expedite critical decision-making during emergencies. Imagine being evacuated from your home due to an impending hurricane (yes, that has happened to me), and in the rush to leave, you forget to grab essential documents like identification, insurance policies, or medical records. Having these documents readily available in a designated “important documents kit” ensures you have the necessary information on hand to prove your identity, access medical care, or file insurance claims promptly.


Also, having your documents prepared in advance can alleviate stress and anxiety during already tense situations. Emergencies are inherently chaotic, and the last thing you want to worry about is rummaging through drawers or files, searching for vital paperwork. By proactively organizing your documents and keeping them in a secure location, you can focus on prioritizing safety and addressing immediate needs rather than scrambling to gather paperwork under duress.


Another compelling reason to have your important documents ready for an emergency is to safeguard against loss or damage. Disasters such as floods, fires, or earthquakes can destroy physical documents stored in homes or offices. While some documents can be replaced, others, like birth certificates, passports, or irreplaceable family heirlooms, might be lost forever.


Digitally storing copies of essential documents in secure cloud storage like Everplans or on encrypted USB drives provides an extra layer of protection against physical damage or loss, ensuring critical information remains accessible even if the originals are destroyed.


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Furthermore, having your important documents organized facilitates seamless communication and coordination with emergency responders and relief agencies. Whether you're seeking medical assistance, applying for government aid, or navigating insurance claims, having all necessary documentation readily available expedites the process and ensures you receive the support and resources you need in a timely manner.


What documents should you include in your important documents kit? While the specific documents might vary depending on individual circumstances, some essential items to consider include:

  • Personal identification (driver's license, passport, Social Security card)
  • Medical records (health insurance cards, medication lists, immunization records)
  • Financial documents (bank account information, insurance policies, wills, deeds)
  • Emergency contacts (family members, doctors, insurance agents)
  • Important legal documents (DD Form 214, birth certificates, marriage certificates, power of attorney)
  • Property records (homeowner’s insurance, mortgage documents, property deeds)
  • Copies of valuable photos or sentimental items


Every day you see stories about natural disasters, car accidents, medical emergencies, and unforeseen events that change someone’s life forever. The peace of mind that comes from knowing you're well-prepared is invaluable. Take the time today to gather your important documents and create an important document kit — it could make all the difference tomorrow. 


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About the Author

Renée Brunelle Matthews
Renée Brunelle Matthews

Renée Brunelle Matthews is a member of MOAA's Surviving Spouse Advisory Council and co-founder of Pathfinders Downsizing Solutions.