California Fires Create Money Disasters, Too

In an emergency, be sure to take these key documents with you.


The fires that forced many California residents to evacuate from their homes earlier this week also posed a personal finance challenge: How do you prepare yourself, financially, to leave your home for an indefinite period of time? What documents should you bring with you? What should you leave behind?

Most of us would probably reach for our wallets, passports, and perhaps a file of key documents, such as marriage certificates and Social Security cards. But what about wills, insurance papers, bank account details, and other paperwork? The National Endowment for Financial Education suggests packing up legal certificates, wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies, Social Security cards, checkbooks, and bank account information. NEFE chief executive Ted Beck, who experienced the 1991 fire evacuation of Oakland, also recommends calling your insurance company to let them know what is going on as soon as you reach a safe area. In some cases, they will pay for the costs of staying away from home. Otherwise, he says, the Red Cross can help direct you to nearby crisis shelters.  NEFE also recommends making sure you have enough cash. In some emergencies, banks and ATMs aren't open for business—one reason to keep a few hundred dollars on hand in case you need it. NEFE also offers these reminders:

  • Keep track of your bills. In some cases, you might want to call your utility, telephone, and cable companies to ask them to stop service while you're away. If you have other bills coming due that you are unable to pay, consider asking for a delayed payment schedule.
    • To protect your job, let your employer know what is going on and where you are. If you or anyone in your family is injured in the emergency, then certain workplace benefits might apply.
      • Once you return to your home and normal life, it might take time to take care of all of the financial loose ends. Disaster recovery guides such as this one from NEFE can help.
      • Have you survived a disaster that impacted you financially? If so, what advice would you add to this list?