In the wake of hurricane Irma and hurricane Harvey, now is a great time to create a plan to keep estate planning documents safe and easily accessible in the event of a natural disaster. Many recognize the need to have property and health insurance paperwork readily available, but that is not enough.
If a person’s home is destroyed, other important documents will be as well, including estate plans. Injuries, illnesses and loss of life often occur during events such as hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, not just while they are happening, but in the aftermath due to hazardous conditions, preexisting medical issues and even natural causes. If there is a medical emergency or death, having copies of estate planning paperwork, including will and trust documents, health care proxies and powers of attorney, could help make a highly stressful time a little less so. Also, if originals are destroyed, copies make redrafting much easier.
One way to make sure documents are available during a natural disaster is to scan and upload them to the cloud. Secure cloud storage can be configured for access from any location, and since documents are stored electronically, one needn’t remember to pack them. If access to secure online storage is not available, saving them to a password-protected flash drive is another option. Be sure to keep it in a safe place that is easily accessible. Putting the drive in a ‘go bag,’ a small bag pre-packed with essentials in case of hurricane evacuation, will ensure it is not forgotten.
If a person prefers hard copies of documents, transportable waterproof bags are available from many retailers. Ideally, just like the flash drive, any documents should be pre-packed. Reliance on copies placed in bank safe deposit boxes is not recommended, since bank vaults are still vulnerable to flooding.
As always, it is a good idea to discuss preparedness plans with an experienced estate planning attorney.