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Allen Ostrofe: The most important ‘go bag’ item for emergencies is only 2 inches long

Allen Ostrofe

Recent catastrophic events in California sparked an elevated level of national interest. In many cases, individuals had only seconds to leave their homes. Our office phones started ringing.

Whether ignited by fear, wildfires, earthquakes, or any other sort of natural disaster, it all got very personal.

You might ask, “What can I do to best protect my family and those closest to me in the case of a catastrophe?”

Recently, John and Marie called from Hillsborough, California and shared, “We think we have the physical Go Bag covered – credit cards, cash, safety deposit box key, flashlight, flares, dry food, liquids, batteries, chargers, warm clothes and underwear, prescriptions, camera, pet food, etc. Is that all we need?”

Absolutely not! The most important part of your Go Bag is one that provides you with financial sustainability. It’s your ‘Financial Go Bag.’

Here’s how to create one:

Step one: Gather all your important documents. Remember your driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, social security card, and Medicare card. Also, gather your deeds to property and titles to cars. Remember insurance policy summaries for home, auto, medical, long term care, life, or umbrella policies.

Include statements for checking, savings, investment, and debt accounts with account numbers, as well as federal and state tax returns from the last three years and estate planning.

Statements are also useful as proof of address when you want to return to your home. Don’t forget documents for your pet, and include your pet’s critical information such as license information, chip ID, and vaccine records.

Step two: Create a physical list of important phone numbers and addresses of close family members, professionals (e.g. financial advisor, doctor, dentist, attorney, banker), important passwords, and any emergency contacts. This list should be printed and included in your Go Bag, not just on your phone, because in an emergency you may run out of battery.

Step three: Create a video inventory of your home, including the contents of every dresser, drawer, cupboard, and collection, including the garage.

Step four: Scan all of this information and store it on two thumb drives (also known as a USB flash drive or memory stick). A thumb drive is generally only two inches long—the length of your thumb.

Safeguard your records. Consider using encryption to secure the data in case of loss or theft. Look at BitLocker for Windows or FileVault for Mac, both built-in operating system features.

Step five: Place one thumb drive in your safety deposit box. Safety deposit boxes are relatively inexpensive through your bank. Think twice about using a ‘fire-proof’ safe buried under your home. We have evidence from a client of ours in the Oakland Hills fire who did exactly that. Today they have ashes of paperwork from inside the safe and a melted glob of their silver and gold coin collection, which was also inside the safe. Place the other thumb drive in your Go Bag.

Where to place the Go Bag? A closet by your front door on a high shelf can be a good option. It’s easy to grab on the way out the door, but can be tucked away discreetly so it doesn’t cause a security risk.

Step six: Let your family or closest friends know you have done this, and where it can be located. Take a moment and congratulate yourself on taking the personal responsibility to pull it all together. Open a bottle of wine to celebrate protecting your loved ones, and going into 2019 well-organized.

Step seven: Give consideration to contributing to those less fortunate. Literally thousands of Californians have been forced out of their homes. If you are over 70.5 years old and have a retirement plan, consider using your RMD (required mandatory distribution) to contribute to the many worthy nonprofit organizations helping those in need. You’ll not only feel good, but avoid the taxation of that portion of your retirement plan distribution.

Remember, it takes just two inches to protect the financial assets you have spent a lifetime building for your loved ones.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Allen Ostrofe, MBA, CFP®, is President Emeritus of Ostrofe Financial Consultants, Inc., with clients in 32 states and is a registered Representative with, and Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Ostrofe Financial Consultants, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial. For questions or suggestions, visit ostrofefinancial.com. Branch address: 420 Sierra College Drive, Suite 200, Grass Valley.

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