Why Have an Important Documents Binder
Having a grab and go binder is simply smart and practical. It makes life simpler now and could be life saving in the event of an emergency – at the very least it will allow you to immediately begin helping your family members.
I use my “Grab and go” binder regularly. It is wonderful having everything in one place for everyday stuff. But even more importantly, I love the tremendous peace of mind from knowing that in just seconds, I can grab every document our family may need in an emergency.
Making insurance claims, searching for missing loved ones (heaven forbid), staying in touch with family and friends, traveling around the country and accessing your financial accounts are all simpler when you have completed a grab and go binder.
You can read through the comments below to see many, many situations when people have used their binders on normal days as well as in an emergency.
Okay, on to the meat of the post!
I’m simply going to walk you step by step through building your own important document folder / grab and go binder. I keep our folder near our 72 hour kit, but not in it as I access and use it often. And yes, it is somewhere safe and well hidden.
Step #1: Gather your documents
Gather your family’s important documents.
Keep these documents in various categories or sections in a 3 ring binder. For items / documents that do not fit well on a 3 ring binder, use a sheet protector or more secure “pocket” to hold all the documents that pertain to that person / section.
You might consider the following sections:
- Emergency Plan (include an evacuation plan, cash, maps, family photos etc)
- Important Phone Numbers (use the forms linked to later in this post)
- Family Identification (Birth cert. Ids, military records, social security, immunization etc…have one sheet protector or pocket for each family member’s documents)
- Testamentary Documents (wills, trusts etc)
- Property Documents (deeds, titles etc)
- Insurance Documents (policies and ID cards)
- Tax Documents
- Investment Documents
- Legal Documents (marriage / divorce cert, prenups, child custody, utility bills etc)
- First Aid (quick reference sheets, detailed medical info on family members etc)
Step #2: Plan For Evacuation
If you are ever asked to evacuate, you likely won’t be thinking clearly. Take a moment now to plan out (and write down) what you will grab, where you will meet, and how you will communicate.
Place your evacuation plan at the beginning of your binder where you can quickly refer to it if needed.
I also strongly suggest adding a recent and past family photo here. If you were to lose a child (during a natural disaster or otherwise) and then find him / her, you may have to prove that he /she belongs to you. This would be especially true if the child was injured / incoherent and unable to recognize you for any reason. Having a older and more recent family photo is one very quick way to prove that this child does and has belonged to you for some time.
I use a 5×7 photo sheet protector for our two pictures and update them each time we have a new family picture taken.
I also keep cash, a map and an extra set of credit cards in this section of my binder.
Step #3: Record Emergency Phone Numbers
There are likely many phone numbers that you may need in an emergency but don’t use regularly. You don’t want to waste precious time trying to look these numbers up.
Take a moment to write down phone numbers that may be important to your family in an emergency such as poison control, a nurse line, your utility companies etc..
You might also consider adding these numbers to your phone. Yes, there are some emergencies where you won’t have access to your phone, but many times you will.
You might consider printing this page twice: once for your binder, and once to post in the pantry for babysitters etc.
Step #4: Record Family and Friend’s Numbers
If you didn’t have access to your phone (or it had died and the power was out), how many phone numbers would you be able to remember? Eeek! I wouldn’t know more than my own, my mom’s and my husband’s phone numbers.
If you want to be able to communicate with family and friends during a power outage or other emergency, you should write their numbers down.
Once completed, add this form to the correct section your binder.
Step # 5: Record Medical, Financial, Utility and Insurance Numbers
Medical providers, financial and insurance account and utility providers are all people we typically don’t contact that often. Yet, in an emergency situation, we may need to do so quickly.
Write down phone numbers and other information for your medical providers, financial and insurance accounts, and utility providers.
This may be useful not only for you, but if someone else needs to access those accounts for you and / or if you need to access them away from home, but can’t remember passwords, account numbers and phone numbers etc.
Once completed add these forms to the correct sections of your binder.
Step # 6: Create ID Forms
Create a form with important information for each family member. Include things such as eye color, hair color, distinct markings etc. Be sure to also include a recent picture (and update it at least yearly for children). Consider including fingerprints and DNA (a piece of hair will do).
I created my own ID forms back in 2011 after searching for a free one online and not finding one I liked. If fact, that is how this whole post started. I keep a copy of these pages in my binder and a 2nd copy with me at all times. If I were to ever lose my child, I’d want the police to have all their information as quickly as possible. I’ve heard horror stories of mothers who can’t remember their children’s birth dates (read similar stories in the comments below), eye color etc. b/c they are so distraught with worry. I don’t want that to happen to me.
Tips for Fingerprints:
- DO NOT “roll” your finger when pressing it on the paper. This can cause the ridges to distort. And don’t use too much ink: practice on a piece of paper first!
- From one of my great readers: “Doing your own fingerprints at home can sometimes be difficult because of smudging, etc. Another option is to get a fingerprint card taken at any local police station/sheriff’s office. It’s free at my local police station, but sometimes they charge a small fee. You just need to take a photo ID with you when you go.”
Behind each ID from (in the same sheet protector / pocket), I keep that child’s birth certificate, shot record, social security form etc. My kids have no allergies or health concerns, but if they did, I would keep details on that info in this sleeve as well. If your child does have allergies, I suggest you read TJ’s advice (she is a reader here) about what she does for her kids (read it here)
You might consider printing ID forms for your binder and to keep with you (in the car / your purse etc) in busy places where a child may get lost.
Also consider filling out an ID form for your pets.
Hazel, one of my readers who is a veterinarian recommends the AVMA’s (American Veterinary Medical Association) brochure on Animal Emergency Preparedness. It is available for purchase as a brochure, but it also available for FREE as a pdf download HERE.
Once completed, add these forms to the correct section of your binder.
Step #7: Gather and Record Log-in Info:
I keep a printed copy of all our log-in information for our various online accounts including banks, insurance, cell phone, school loans, facebook, email etc. (And I’m NOT telling you where I hide this folder, so please do not ask) I do not save this anywhere on my computer though I do store it in a secure cloud (Dashlane)
This is probably one of the riskiest things to have in y our binder, so consider what is best for your family when choosing to include / not include this information. You can find tips for creating secure passwords here.
If desired, add this form to your binder. I hide mine between other less confidential forms so that only I know where it is at.
Step # 8: First Aid
Even if you have basic first aid training, you may not remember it in a disaster situation. Keeping shorthand notes of important first aid procedures can help.
Make sure you also note any medications your family members are taking in case medical professionals need this information.
I like keeping this info right at the front of my binder so I can quickly access it if needed.
Step #9: Finish Assembling Your Binder
Add all the other documents you gathered in Step #1 to the appropriate sections of your binder.
Download all the printable forms:
I know you likely don’t have time to create all these pages for your grab and go binder, so I’ve made 18 forms available for you to print for free!
A Quality Safe
The #1 question I have gotten about this post is “Where can I find a water proof, fireproof safe that will fit 8×11 documents and is reasonably priced?” Well, I use the SentrySafe H230 and you can find it by clicking on this link.
Concerns About The Risks:
I’ve had many, many people comment or send me emails about their concern over this post. Some have been very kind, others, not so much.
Having all this in one place creates a risk. But there is risk no matter what. If you don’t have a grab and go binder at all there are risks. You have to weigh which risk is less scary to you. For me, I’ve decided the risk of not having it is scarier than the risks created by having it. My folder is very well hidden and does not call attention to itself.
The risks of not having this folder and needing it are much more common (just read them comments below for times people wished they’d had one), and I feel “safer” having it. If you don’t, then by all means, don’t make one! If you are nervous about the risk and what some other ideas, read the comments below, there are lots of great ideas from my fabulous readers! One particularly helpful comment from reader Rachel can be found HERE.
If Your Time is Money
If the idea of creating your own binder is overwhelming to you, or you feel that your time would be better spent on other projects, consider purchasing the Prepare My Life Planner.
While the binder I described to you above worked for me for years, I do wish I’d bought the Prepare My Life Planner sooner.
The Prepare My Life Planner is TWO things in one:
- A grab a go binder (will all the necessary forms)
- A comprehensive emergency plan for your family
It will save you an enormous amount of time and you will end up with a much more complete and higher quality emergency plan and important documents grab and go binder.
Learn more HERE.
How About You?
Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts about this folder. Do you have one? Will you be updating it? Will you not make one? Why?
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