When people suffer the loss of their homes and possessions in a tornado, flood, or fire, it is often the treasured family photos and documents that are missed the most. Fortunately, today, there are many options for ensuring that these family records are not lost forever. One of your best bets will be to keep the originals or copies in a safe deposit box. If that isn’t an option for you, a heavy-duty metal fireproof box kept on a high shelf can also work. It may be wise to keep the copies in a separate location from the originals so that if one set is destroyed, the other will be safe. Keeping them at a friend’s or relative’s house may be a viable alternative.
Another way to preserve your documents is to scan them into an electronic format that can be kept on a CD or external hard drive. There are also many websites today that offer online data backup services, which provide an “off-site” source to store your digital documents so that you can easily retrieve them with an Internet connection in case your originals and your external hard drive are destroyed.
It’s important to have a “Safeguarded Documents” file where you can store important documents. Here’s a list of some documents that you may want to include in that file:
– Family photos, home escrow and sale documents, income tax returns for the past seven years along with W2s
– Copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, adoption documents, divorce decrees, citizenship papers, green cards, social security cards, driver’s licenses, lists of investments, bank accounts, and credit card numbers along with contact phone numbers
– Passports, Military discharge papers, and your will
– Car titles, insurance policies, and registrations, deed to your house, mortgage, and insurance documents, a household inventory with photos
In case of any emergency, it’s best to freeze wet documents and photos as soon as possible (mold begins to grow in 48 hours) until you can determine if it is possible to restore them. You can get copies of your last 7 years of tax return information from the IRS by filling out form 4506 but it will cost you $57 per copy.