Natural and man-made disasters can strike at any time and in any location. Having a disaster preparedness kit with ample food and supplies can help reduce your family's stress and help to get you back on your feet. In addition to food and supplies, you should consider the following important documents to include as well.
Important legal documents
- Birth certificate(s), adoption papers, marriage license or divorce papers. If you need additional copies of these legal documents, contact the appropriate state health or Social Services Administration Office. If these life events occurred in different states, you may need to contact each state individually.
- Social security card(s). United States citizens who receive income are required to have a social security number. If you do not have a copy of your social security card, you can request new/replacement cards by calling your local social security office or by visiting the Social Security Administration website.
- Passport. A copy of your passport will expedite obtaining a replacement passport if needed. More information about obtaining a passport is available at the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
- Naturalization documents. If you were not born in the United States, your naturalization documents are the only acceptable proof of citizenship. More information is available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
- Last will and testament. A last will and testament, or will, is a declaration that states how a person wishes his or her property to be disposed of after his or her death. You can receive assistance on drafting or updating a will through your nearest military Legal Assistance Office. You can find the contact information of your local Legal Assistance Office through the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS application, under the program/service "Legal Services/JAG" or through the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Legal Services Locator application.
- Living will. A living will, or advance medical directive, is a written document that allows you to describe what medical treatments you do or do not want in case of a serious terminal illness. It only takes effect if you are unable to express your wishes in some other way. Living wills also allow you to identify another person who should make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them on your own. You can receive assistance on drafting or updating a living will through your nearest military Legal Assistance Office.
- Power of attorney. A power of attorney is a written document that gives another person the authority to act on your behalf for any legal or economic issues for a specified period of time. You can receive assistance on drafting or updating a power of attorney through your nearest military Legal Assistance Office.
Property deeds and titles. If you own your home(s) or vehicle(s), you should include a copy of your mortgage or deed of trust, as well as any vehicle titles. If you need a copy of your mortgage or deed of trust, contact your lending institution. Proof of home ownership may be required in order to receive federal disaster assistance. If you do not have your car ownership papers, you should be able to get a reissued vehicle title or registration from your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Important financial documents
- Tax statements. If possible, include a copy of your previous year's tax returns, any property tax statements and any personal property tax statements. A copy of your tax returns from the previous year may be required to apply for new loans and to verify qualification for income-based assistance.
- Statements from financial accounts. Bank and credit union statements, credit/debit card statements, retirement account statements (e.g., 401K, Thrift Savings Plan, Individual Retirement Account) and statements from investment accounts (e.g., stocks, bonds, mutual funds) should also be included in your disaster preparedness kit. These statements typically have contact information for the financial institution, the name of the account holder, the account number and contact telephone numbers.
- Sources of income. Recent pay stubs for all sources of income as well as any government benefits you or your family members receive (e.g., Social Security, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Veterans' Affairs benefits) should be included as well. Having proof of your income sources will be important if you are confronted with an event that interrupts your income.
- Financial obligations. Include copies of your financial obligations including a mortgage statement, lease, utility bills (e.g., electric, water, gas bills, etc.), car payments and student loans in your disaster preparedness kit. Having a record of your financial obligations can be very helpful to demonstrate the amount of your discretionary income and to qualify for income-based assistance following a disaster. If you do not have a lease or mortgage payments, proof of utility payments can be used to demonstrate residence in the home.
Insurance information. Include policy numbers and contact information for property insurance, rental insurance, auto insurance, life insurance and any other insurance policies you have. This information will be needed to file an insurance claim following the disaster.
- Health insurance identification cards. Copies of everyone's current health insurance ID cards should also be included in your disaster preparedness kit. If you need additional copies of the cards, contact your health care provider.
Record of immunizations/allergies and a list of necessary medications. You or your family members may need to receive care from a medical provider other than your normal provider. Any information on immunizations, allergies and necessary medications can help ensure that you and your family receive proper care.
Storing your documents
As many of these documents contain personal or financial information, you should keep all original documents, photographs and computer backup disks in a safe and secure location. This may include an off-site safety deposit box or a fireproof/waterproof metal box or safe inside the home.