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Be Prepared: Create an Emergency Paperwork Kit│Emergency Documents

Updated on December 30, 2017

There are various types of “emergency kits”. Most people think of an emergency kit as that used for medical emergencies. Or the emergency kits more aptly termed “survival kits” should a disaster hit and help does not arrive for hours, maybe days. These kits typically include items such as water, food, a flashlight, batteries and other immediate necessities.

This article, however, is about an emergency kit that includes the personal paperwork that will not only help you receive aid during a crisis but get you back on your feet once the emergency is over. It's about being organized.

WHY is an Emergency Paperwork Kit Important?


Any of the following events could potentially force you to abandon your home for a period of time, perhaps forever, and warrant the need for a set of emergency documents. While some may be fairly obvious to those living in specific areas, other events may be entirely unexpected:

  • a looming natural disaster forces you to evacuate immediately. Those who live in earthquake and fire prone areas such as California, “Tornado Alley” such as Kansas or near the southeastern coastlines in states such as Florida where hurricanes are a seasonal occurrence are especially sensitive to the importance to being able to flee at a moments notice.
  • a fire destroys your home.
  • the spread of an infectious disease.
  • a toxic spill or explosion forces your entire neighborhood or town to evacuate.
  • your sudden death or incapacitation leaves relatives scrambling to sort out your personal affairs.
  • a severe power outage makes your home unlivable.
  • domestic violence forces you to flee your home.

While people who do live in areas affected by natural disasters on a regular basis are more aware of the need to be ready to evacuate on short notice, many of the rest of us rarely think about the consequences of losing literally everything and then undertaking the process of picking up the pieces. Having a package of emergency paperwork ready to flee your home will at least give you a feeling of assurance that you are somewhat prepared should circumstances warrant a fast exit.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you'd wished you had an Emergency Paperwork Kit or were glad you had one?

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TIP #1: already feeling overwhelmed just thinking about putting your kit together? Afraid to read any further? Just remember, the following process can be broken down into parts to be accomplished over a week or even a month!

WHAT Should You Include in an Emergency Paperwork Kit?

The following is a rather comprehensive list of items one should consider putting into this emergency kit:

Legal Documents: (the originals for the following should be kept in a safe-deposit box at your preferred bank or in a secure fire and waterproof safe in your home)

  • Family Records: make copies of marriage papers, divorce papers, birth certificates, citizenship papers and/or passports, death certificates, adoption papers, wills, living trusts, medical directives, military records, power of attorney papers, court orders pertaining to your family and burial arrangements.

NOTE: some sources recommend taking original wills and birth certificates with you. Copies of original birth certificates can be ordered through the state health department where a person was born.

  • Social Security and Identification Cards: make copies of all of your family’s social security cards. Order cards for everyone in your family who doesn’t have one. A social security card can be ordered over the internet through the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website but it might be easier to apply through your local office.

NOTE: some sources recommend taking your original social security cards with you.

  • Passports
  • Financial Records: make copies of your stock and bond certificates (and any other investments you may have), most recent tax return and credit report, and IRA, pension, 401K or other retirement information. Include a list of your bank account numbers, proof of your bank account ownership and copies of the front and back of your credit and debit cards.
  • Property Records: make copies of property deeds, titles to vehicles (car, boat, RV, motorcycle, etc.), mortgage documents, leases and your property tax bill.
  • Safe Deposit Box Information: location, box number, written and/or photo inventory of the contents, second key and proof of persons authorized to access the box.

Medical Records: include health insurance cards and records of immunizations, allergic reactions, blood types, medical conditions, prescriptions (medical, eyeglasses, contacts, hearing aids, etc.) and the style and serial numbers for medical devices such as pacemakers.

Insurance Records: make a copy of the front of all of your insurance policies including but not limited to health, homeowners/renters, disability, life and auto insurances. If you don’t normally carry your insurance card(s) with you, add them to this list.

NOTE: some insurance companies require that you present the original life insurance policy document to make a claim – leave a copy in your safe-deposit box or home safe.

Professional Records: include copies of your professional licenses, employment contracts, business contracts, resume, and school and/or college transcripts.

Photographs: include individual photos of each family member, writing their name on the back of the photo, as well as a family photo. Also include photos of all family pets, the exterior of your house (to include front and back, fencing, landscaping, pools, etc.) and each room of your house (for some, making a video may be easier). Photograph all possessions that have a model and serial number and write this information on the back of the photo.

Contact Information: include the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the people you might need to contact in case of an emergency. At the minimum, this list should include:

  • Relatives
  • Friends
  • Employer / coworkers
  • Your children's school
  • Local police, fire department, and medical facilities
  • Doctors and veterinarians
  • Your attorney and accountant
  • Your insurance agent(s)
  • Your utility, cable, credit card and mortgage companies, banks, etc.
  • Local and/or national aid agencies such as the Red Cross

TIP: Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork? Download Erik Dewey’s free Big Book of Everything (available in PDF or Excel format) to help you get started! His 44-page organizer covers all of the paperwork listed here.

Online Account Information: if you are one of the few who have not yet set up an online email account, do so. Create an account that is easily accessible from a computer other than the one you would typically use at home. Make a list of all URLS, User IDs and Passwords you may need to access any online accounts.

Spare Keys: for your house, vehicle(s), storage unit and any other important lockable items.

Cash: take ATM cards, credit cards and blank checks and use these methods of payment first if at all possible. You may need your actual cash as a last resort. $500.00 might be the minimal sum to consider.

Personal Items: items that are easy to carry and you feel are irreplaceable, such as an old photo or piece of jewelry.

Have your Emergency Paperwork Kit ready to go! [1]
Have your Emergency Paperwork Kit ready to go! [1]

WHERE Should You Keep Your Emergency Paperwork Kit?

Keep your paperwork kit in a waterproof plastic freezer bag preferably in a fireproof box. Keep this box in your home in a place that is easily accessible should you need to make a quick getaway. You may also want to make a backup of all of these copies by scanning them and putting them on a cd or USB stick and including these items in your kit as well. There is also the option of using an online backup service for your scans. However, hardcopies of your records are probably the most reliable method of keeping track of your personal information in a time of crisis.

WHO Should Have a Copy of Your Emergency Paperwork Kit?

It is also important to send a copy of your kit to a trusted relative or friend outside of a 100 mile radius of where you live. Should something happen to your kit, this person will have a backup.

HOW Often Should You Update an Emergency Paperwork Kit?

Update this information every six months, especially if you do live in an area prone to natural disasters. If done properly, updating your paperwork should not be as time consuming as the initial setup.

Do you have an Emergency Paperwork Kit?

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WHEN Should You Create Your Emergency Paperwork Kit?

If your answer to the above poll is 'no,' then 'now' is the time! Or at least soon! Don't put it off. Creating your Emergency Paperwork Kit may seem like an overwhelming chore (much like doing taxes) but there may come a time when you are very glad you made the effort to be organized.

Photo Credits:

[1] Leo Lowe, L fotos, flickr

[2] Via morgueFile / Altered by Gemini Fox

[3] Via photobucket / Collage by Gemini Fox

© 2012 Gemini Fox


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    • Gemini Fox profile image

      Gemini Fox 5 years ago

      poowool5: thanks for reading! Yes,it is a process but the smart thing to do. I just keep telling myself how good I'll feel about getting it done once it's done . . . which isn't helping me feel enthusiastic about starting one bit ;)

    • poowool5 profile image

      poowool5 5 years ago from here in my house

      Wow, I had never thought of doing this, but then I'm the kind of person who loses bills and lets passports slip out of date....

      I think your advice is excellent, especially in this age of unpredictable natural disasters etc.

      I will add it to my New Year's Resolutions (2013) to get this done. I really think it is a smart thing to do. Thanks. Voted up!

    • Gemini Fox profile image

      Gemini Fox 5 years ago

      alocsin: thanks so much for reading! Yes, I think that organizing this paperwork would be very useful, and I really should do it myself as I live in an area that gets tornadoes - but, wow, it's a process!!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      This is excellent advice. I think most people, such as myself, only think of survival equipment for emergency kits, and yet paper is what makes the modern world go round. Voting this Up and Useful.