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It’s that time of the year again. The Atlantic Hurricane season began on June 1st and ends November 30th, 2024. When it comes to hurricane prep, Louisianans know the drill – stock clean water and shelf-stable food, restock your batteries, and get out the plywood and sand bags. Unfortunately, our important documents can be an afterthought when a big storm is coming, but it’s a vital part of your hurricane prep.

Locate Your Important Documents

The first step is locating and protecting your important documents. If you’re anything like me, you may have a junk closet, where stuff goes to eventually become lost in a sea of other junk. Don’t let your important documents get lost in the junk closet. Keep all your important documents together in a single location for easy access in the event of an evacuation. Let’s call it your “bug out box.”

What Are the Important Documents?

Now, what documents should be in that bug out box? Here are some common items to consider:

  • Insurance policies and supporting documentation
  • Original estate planning documents (e.g., will, living will, powers of attorney)
  • Real property deeds, titles, and mortgages
  • Personal identification documents (e.g., passports, driver’s license)
  • Financial account statements
  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • Medical records

This month, we will discuss insurance policies and related insurance documentation and original estate planning documents. Next month, we will discuss real property deeds, titles, and mortgages in more detail.

Insurance Policies and Related Files

First, insurance policies and supporting documentation. At the beginning of the season, make a quick call to your insurance agent. Check and make sure that you have enough coverage to repair and/or replace your home and belongings, if necessary. Ask for copies of your policies if you do not already have them, and put them in your bug out box. Remember that flood insurance is not included with your home insurance, so consider getting flood insurance if you do not already have it.

Next, take some time before hurricane season to document your home and belongings. In the event of a total loss situation, these photos will help you prove the pre-storm condition of your home. Take photos of your high value personal property, and keep the receipts, serial numbers, and warranties in your bug out box. In a total loss situation, insurance companies often ask you to produce receipts or serial numbers for items you bought years ago, so keeping these items together will save you a headache.

Estate Planning Papers

The next question you should ask yourself: Do I have a will, living will, trust, and/or power of attorney?

If the answer is yes, store the original documents in a weather and fire proof location, such as a safe. In the event of an evacuation, these documents belong in your bug out box.

Consider: what would happen to your family and your belongings if you were to become incapacitated or die? The goal of estate planning is to safeguard your assets and make a plan for the management of your affairs during life and after death. The chaos caused by a hurricane will often present situations where quick access to your estate planning documents is a must. For example, if you become injured or incapacitated during a storm, having a healthcare power of attorney and a HIPAA authorization in your bug out box is crucial. Without it, doctors will not know your wishes and will not know who you’ve authorized to make medical decisions for you.

At a minimum, your estate planning documents should include a will, living will, durable power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, and a HIPAA authorization. Larger estates may warrant additional documents, such as a trust. These documents provide basic protection and allow you to rest assured that you are well-prepared for an emergency.

If you already have a estate plan, now is a good time to review it. Have you lost your original documents? Have there been any major changes in your life? Are you worried your documents may no longer do what you want them to do? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to consult with an attorney to discuss updating your plan.

The information provided is not intended to be legal or tax advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lake Charles, LA. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, contact her office at (225) 744-0027.

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