The key to being prepared for any kind of crisis at your practice is to plan far in advance and know where important documents are at all times.
Recent and ongoing tragic events in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States prove the need for basic preparation for any crisis that may disrupt your practice and threaten your assets.
Our last discussion provided tips on both adequately insuring your business and home against disasters like hurricanes and how to properly document your property condition and contents. As always, managing risk instead of, (or at least before), crisis will make your path easier and more predictable in the event of the unthinkable happening to you.
Get Your Paperwork In Order
A basic checklist of vital documents you need to carry and that are necessary to rebuild your financial and legal life should include the following:
•Identification including passports, birth certificates and other government issued IDs
•Insurance documents including life, health, disability, and loss
•Estate plan including various powers of attorney
•The last copy of your statement from various financial institutions
•Tax Records (according to the IRS you may have to save them for up to seven years)
•Anything vital to the continuation of your business including data
•All vital legal documents that either aren't formally recorded (i.e. employment agreements, business contracts, etc.)
When I ask most clients about these documents, the answer is usually troubling. If the documents exist, most people do not have them consolidated in a safe place that is both waterproof and fire rated and that they and other trusted associates or family members have access to. Instead, these vital documents are typically scattered among multiple locations including the home, office, "some boxes in storage somewhere," and at least one that someone else is taking care of for them.
Understanding that these documents could easily fit into the back of the car you may be packing the kids and dog into to flee the flood, fire, or other natural disaster makes it clear that being prepared should include having both a physical back-up (like a flash drive) and one available in the only place that it can't be burnt, lost or or washed away; online.
There are a variety of free or low-cost secure online vaults and storage options available ranging from Drop Box-type services to those native to Microsoft Office, Apple's iCloud, and those offered by higher-end financial advisors and related providers that will give you a highly secure, private online file cabinet that you can access from anywhere.
It is vital that others are aware that the physical records and their online back-ups exist and that the right people have a way to access them in the event of your death, injury or other incapacity or unavailability. Having access to your living will, financial and healthcare powers of attorney, and other vital documents could save time and allow you to delegate authority to those on scene or give others the legal tools to carry out your wishes if you could not instruct them personally.
Finally, consider carefully what essential physical items you would have to take with you in such a circumstance including required medication or medical devices for all family members including your pets, any cash or other small portable items of value, and any items required for personal security including means of self-defense, a communication device like a phone and/or walkie-talkie, a basic medical kit, etc. A day of discomfort could turn into a week, or longer as we've seen in the news.