10 Documents Your Family Needs in Case of Emergency So You Can Act Fast

February 16, 2021

"In case of emergency." It's a phrase that we like to ignore, you know, like the safety instructions flight attendants give back when we used to fly. We see it, but it's not important. Until it is.

So what if you have an emergency and you are unable to communicate? Unfortunately, with COVID, strokes, other serious conditions, you may have to be intubated. Will your loved ones know where your advanced directive is? How about your social security number? Your health insurance plan? Keys to your home and alarm code to let the gardener in?

We Don't Like Emergencies

We don't like to think of emergencies or even the inevitable. I'll never forget my grandmother taking me to her gravesite with her name already engraved on the headstone. It was morbid. Disturbing. She said she didn't want her children to have to worry about having it taken care of. Eleven years later, she passed away knowing she had prepared.

This is why it's so hard for some of us to have conversations about life insurance and prepaid burial or cremation services. But it's going to happen.

Emergencies could happen. Well, they do happen. But what kind of severity? We don't know. That's why it's unforeseen. And yet, if you have a history of heart issues or diabetes, you know the probabilities of an emergency. It’s just better to be prepared.

Where Should You Keep Documents?

Keeping these documents in a portable fire safe like the Mini Safe Cubby just makes sense. It’s a good place to keep identity documents like your passport, birth certificate, and any stock certificates, pink slips, life insurance policies, and trust paperwork.

If you feel comfortable with an encrypted drive, Dropbox might be a great idea, too. Sharing these documents with your trusted emergency contact will allow them to access what they need from their phone if they meet you at a hospital or are traveling. 

If you have an attorney on retainer, that is also a good option. Discuss these things with your spouse, children, or other emergency contact.

Writing this as a single woman about to join AARP, I am realizing that I need to do the same!

What Documents Do You Need In Case of Emergency?

We’ve done some research as well as used a bit of common sense. Should you experience an emergency, your emergency contact should know where to find:

  1. Advanced Directive and/or DNR
  2. Durable Power of Attorney
  3. List of Medications
  4. Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate as well as Death Certificate
  5. Passport
  6. Estate and Trust Documents
  7. Revocable or Irrevocable Trust
  8. Will and Testament 
  9. Pension and Insurance Documents
  10. End of Life Instructions and Burial Plot Deed

Doesn’t that Seem Like a Lot of Documents?

Yes, this isn’t even an exhaustive list. For example, if you’ve been discharged from the military, you’ll need those records, the AARP reminds us. You may also need to keep record of any patents or copyrights you may own that bring you royalties. Stocks from corporations, investment funds, and any paperwork from bank accounts for which you’re a signatory.

Keep the documents for as long as possible. As someone who has lost a spouse and a father, I still need those death certificates -- five years later. As always, talk to your loved ones and your family attorney. 

Get your paperwork organized and have the hard conversation so you can get back to enjoying this part of your life. Your family will thank you later.

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