Your Emergency File

by Ramona Creel

Making It A Priority

If you haven't already created an “emergency reference file” for your family, move this to the top of your to-do list (right up there with creating a household inventory and ensuring that your will is updated!) This is one of those “worry about it now so you won't have to worry later” type projects — you probably won't access this file often, but you'll be glad to have it when you need it.

So what do you put in an “emergency file?” Your emergency file should contain all of the most important information about your life — your finances, legal obligations, insurance coverage, health history, and personal data. Anything and everything you might need to access during a crisis.  But you only want to include only the essentials — like a distilled-down version of your filing cabinet, without the clutter! The organizational system you use is up to you (a binder with divider tabs for each section, an accordion file, or a file box with a lid and a handle) — just as long as it's portable. And be sure to keep your emergency file stored within easy reach — you need to be able to “grab and go” if something unexpected happens.

Calling In The Red Cross

When a disaster strikes, the first people on the scene are usually the Red Cross — bringing in supplies, providing aid, and helping people to put their lives back in order. Think of your emergency file as your own personal Red Cross volunteer, there to help you regain control during chaotic and difficult times. However, for this volunteer to be of any use to you, you must provide him or her with the right tools and information up front. So let's get down to brass tacks — a discussion of the actual documents that should be kept in your emergency file. Think about the paperwork you would want on hand during a serious emergency or when trying to recover after a disaster. What kind of information would the police and hospital, insurance agents and mortgage company, banks and financial institutions ask you for? Your goal is to bring these items together into one organizational system:

1)  Vital Records

  • copies of birth certificates and adoption records for each family member
  • copies of marriage licenses, drivers licenses, and passports for each
  • copies of all property and auto records — deeds, leases, titles, etc.
  • copies of all property and umbrella insurance policies
  • document locator (tells where originals and off-site paperwork are stored)

2)  Financial Information

  • list of all bank account numbers
  • copies of the front and back of each credit card
  • list of all investment account numbers
  • list of all retirement and pension account numbers
  • detailed information about any current income and benefits
  • detailed information about any outstanding mortgages/loans

3)  Medical Information

  • copies of health/life/disability insurance cards and policies
  • medical history for each family member
  • list of medications and prescriptions, including dose and pharmacy
  • details about any ongoing medical conditions and treatments

4)  Contacts

  • friends and family to reach in case of emergency
  • neighbors who have access to your house
  • financial institutions, insurance companies, and legal advisers
  • physicians, specialists, hospitals, and other healthcare providers
  • employers and benefits administrators

Remember that most of these documents will be copies — original deeds, birth certificates, insurance policies, etc. should be stored in a fire safe or safe deposit box, as a back up.  And be sure to let the important people in your life like family, close friends, and professional advisers (those who might need to access the information in your file if something happened to you) know where it is stored and what it contains. Just a little bit of preparation can make a huge difference in case of emergency.

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.