My F&M

Safely Storing Personal Information in Case of a Fire

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The below article was written by Lauren Hughes and originally published in our October edition of Wealth & Life.

Earlier this year my family experienced an almost total loss of the home my grandmother had lived in for 51 years, including the house itself and nearly all the contents. As you can imagine, she had accumulated several keepsakes as well as paperwork. In the months following the fire, there were a lot of pieces to be picked up and documentation to track down. This process led me to realize just how unprepared people may be if this unfortunate event were to happen to them or a loved-one.

To try to assist our clients as much as possible, here are some ideas to help with the organization of your, or maybe a loved-one’s, important information.

Things to consider:

  • Enroll in online access to your applicable accounts (banking, brokerage, liabilities, insurance, etc). 
    - Even if used sparingly, having access can be helpful for holding the account details, policies, statements, etc. in one place.
    - Online access often offers a resource when you’re looking to update your information or get in touch with a representative.
    - Consider using a password tool like LastPass to retain your login credentials and other important online information.
  • Save contact phone numbers for your insurance agency, cable / phone company, electric company, etc. in your cell phone so you can inform them of an event immediately.
  • Keep the following in a firesafe box or a safe deposit box/vault
    - Copies of account / login information
    - Agreements, deeds, policies
    - Expensive irreplaceable heirlooms
  • For stored family items (children’s school projects, old home videos, holiday decorations, etc.) think about keeping them organized in plastic bins, with sealable lids. This will help in preventing smoke damage if items survive.

  • If you have a firesafe box in your home, be sure your loved-ones know where to find it.
    - Store it in a permanent safe place so you, or your loved-ones, can easily locate it in case of emergency (firefighters were asking my grandmother where to find hers). 

If utilizing a safe deposit box at a local bank, ensure another person is listed that can access it on your behalf and that a key is accessible. The ownership of a safe deposit box works similar to a bank or brokerage account – if only one person is listed, another person cannot access it. I recommend at least two owners be listed. If it is in one name, executor paperwork may be required from the county to show proof that a different individual has authorized access. Power of Attorneys do not typically apply, and if there is a death, safe deposit boxes can be inaccessible until the county paperwork is provided. Also, be sure to store the key somewhere safe and accessible. A lost safe deposit box key can be costly, because without it, the bank will have to hire a specialty locksmith.

Additionally, Foster & Motley has a “Family Letter” document template that can help capture as much of your information as you would like. We recommend including all account and contact information, as well as the location of keys, safe deposit boxes, and fire-safe boxes, then saving the document in a place that would be accessible to you or your family (virtual storage space in LastPass, send to F&M to file, etc.). The last step is to determine a timeframe for when you will review the document to include any updates (quarterly / annually).

Please contact your advisor if you have any questions or are interested in receiving a copy of the a “Family Letter” template to personalize with your information.