From tropical storms, to heatwave-fueled wildfires, to winter blizzards – adverse weather events are becoming more frequent, and more severe. In this context, it’s important to know how to protect and recover important documents such as your Social Security Card, driver’s license, property deed and other critical papers.
Unsure what to do if an important document is damaged, misplaced or lost? Read on for a quick guide on how to recover important documents.
Possibly the most critical step you can take to protect important documents is planning ahead.
Start by scanning ID cards, important paperwork and legal documents so they are in an electronic format. If you don’t have a scanner – don’t worry! Phone apps such as CamScanner make it easy to turn a paper file into an electronic one in just a few minutes. Once your documents are in electronic format, email them to yourself or save in a secure online location, such as a password-protected cloud storage locker like iDrive.
Protect physical copies of important documents by storing these all together in one place; preferably in a fire-safe lockbox. Keep the lockbox at a location where you can easily grab it if you’re leaving the house in a hurry, while keeping in mind that in a life-threatening situation you should always prioritize personal safety over paperwork.
After a Disaster Strikes
Following the loss of important documents, here’s where to start on the road to replacement:
- ID Cards: Each ID card will need to be replaced through its relevant government agency; check USA.gov for specific information on who to contact for which document. Your state DMV can help with replacing a driver’s license, the Social Security Administration will need to be contacted about a new Social Security Card, and you should get in touch with the State Department of the federal government about a lost or stolen passport.
- Tax Returns: The IRS has access to all past tax returns which have been filed. The department can re-issue these to you, although there is a small fee associated with the process. Visit IRS.gov for more information.
- Property Titles: If you’re missing a car title or the deed to a house, the good news is that the issuing agency will almost always have a copy on file. A car title can be replaced through your local DMV, while the deed to a house can be re-issued through the county clerk. In both cases be prepared to verify your identity and bring along any proof of ownership you do have, such as your vehicle registration.
- Money: Many people aren’t aware that the US government offers currency redemption to replace cash that becomes mutilated in a flood, fire or other disaster. You can apply for redemption through the US Department of Treasury, but do be aware that there are specific rules regarding the condition of eligible currency – more information is available online.
- Legal Documents: A marriage certificate, will, power of attorney and other legal documents can usually be reissued through the court with which they were filed. A personal attorney should be able to offer more support in recovering such papers. In the case of a will, you may consider if it’s a good occasion to review and update this document.
- Vaccination Card: With some organizations requiring proof of vaccine for employees or customers, it’s a good idea to have your vaccine card accessible. If you’ve lost it, you may be able to get a replacement at your original vaccination site. You can also contact your state health department, which maintains an immunization record system – check online for more information from the CDC.
Avoiding Identity Theft
When it comes to questions of losing and replacing important documents, it’s important to keep identity theft top-of-mind. After a natural disaster, be wary of anyone who directly contacts you to ask for personal identifying information such as your bank account information or Social Security Number. In addition, if you’re in the process of moving important documents online, it’s a good idea to use a password manager to ensure that cloud-based storage spaces remain as secure as possible. Finally, if you suspect that you have been the victim of identity theft, report the incident as soon as possible and create a recovery plan using resources from the Federal Trade Commission.