Are You Ready For Anything?
Wildfires in California and Australia have destroyed thousands of properties and displaced tens of thousands of individuals. Hurricanes and floods have devastated the American south and Midwest and tornados have ravaged several areas of Ontario, Canada. These are all truly horrific events that literally challenged the survival of the people involved. Luckily for most of us, the emergencies we deal with do no usually involve life threatening situations, but they are no less traumatic.
Consider Susan’s Situation
Susan is 43-year-old, divorced mother of two teenagers. Her daughter suffers from epilepsy and has a complex regimen of medications and a team of healthcare professionals that assist her. Her ex-husband is completely aware of his daughter’s condition but not that familiar with her treatments and doctors. He had his children with him for a week while Susan was away on business. His daughter had a seizure and he did not have information on her medications to give the paramedics. Susan, in turn, had an automobile accident as she was returning home and did not have here healthcare information with her. Susan could not tell her ex-husband where to locate the healthcare information nor could she direct him to the information on their daughter’s treatments and doctors. These are the kinds of life events that point to the importance of being prepared, of having a plan for emergencies and ensuring important information and documents are in one place that can be accessed quickly in time of need or emergency.
The Aftermath Is Critical
By definition, emergencies are a surprise and how we deal with them initially depends on a variety of factors. However, the consequences of an emergency can be exacerbated if we are not prepared to address them quickly. A house fire can leave a family homeless but that can be mitigated if they can access their insurance coverage quickly and secure temporary shelter and support. Unfortunately, less than 35% of North Americans surveyed say they have their important documents readily accessible and three in ten said they have little or no knowledge of what their insurance covers.
Steps Toward Being Prepared
Experts agree that having critical documents and information at hand is important for any number of emergencies. An illness or injury, a natural or man-made disaster or a death can all demand that critical documents be secured quickly. And your critical documents must be accessible to the people who will help you in an emergency. It is of little use to have your power of attorney in a safety deposit box if you are incapacitated and unable to grant your designate access.
There are a number of online “digital vaults” or file cabinets where people upload their critical documents electronically. This might be a good way to store valued photos or even scans of some documents, but it will not work for documents like passports, driver’s licenses or health cards, which must all be presented in their original form to be valid. It is also of little help if you don’t have access to a computer at your time of need or if you are debilitated and no one else has access to your files.
When it comes to organizing your critical documents, simplicity is the key. Your Will, Power of Attorney, medical direction, insurance documents and banking information should all be in one container. The container needs to be stored safely to be sure, but it must also be accessible to whoever you are going to trust with its location. It is best to have more than one person that you entrust with your information. Having at least two people who know how to access your information makes it more likely that at least one of them will be available to help in an emergency. Many think the obvious container is a home safe, which may work fine, but if your house burns down you may not be able to get at the safe immediately, even if it survives.
Consider the following steps:
- Put your critical document, or copies where appropriate, in a single holder that can be stored securely and accessed quickly.
- Consider replicating your critical documents and storing a second set with a trusted designate
- Discuss an emergency plan with your family that includes a place to meet in an emergency, designated people to contact for help and a method for communicating if traditional telephone and cell service is interrupted or unavailable.
- Identify at least two individuals who agree to assist you in an emergency. They may or may not have your power of attorney or other legal designations, but they should know where to access the documents that detail your wishes and plans
Both the Canadian and U.S. Governments have websites devoted to disaster and emergency preparedness, but neither focuses much on ensuring you have the documentation to address the aftermath of an emergency. While it is a wise move to have an emergency kit and a plan, ensuring you can get to your information and documents is a simple but essential aspect of dealing with emergencies.