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By Claudia Buck
The Sacramento Bee
When it comes to keeping important papers in a safe spot, insurance agent Gary Hatano vividly remembers one client's solution.
While visiting the home of a retired military veteran, Hatano asked to see a copy of his life insurance policy.
"He said, 'Hold on a minute' and went to his refrigerator," recalls Hatano. From the bottom of the vegetable bin, the retiree pulled out his insurance policy, neatly wrapped in aluminum foil.
While a tin foil packet under the refrigerated carrots may not seem like the most sophisticated solution, Hatano said he couldn't argue too much with his client's intentions. In a fire, the packet presumably wouldn't burn and everyone in his family knew exactly where it was.
Knowing what to grab in case of a hurried evacuation could prevent the loss of irreplaceable family mementos, as well as documents. Here are some options:
GRAB-AND-GO BINDER: Having a grab-and-go box or binder can be a lifesaver. Think of it as a one-stop spot to keep all your key documents. It can be a binder, a file box, or anything portable enough to carry on your own.
MAKIN' A LIST: Another essential safeguard: a household inventory.
You can record a video or simply make a room-by-room list of appliances, furniture, electronics, books, clothing. Remember to include the backyard and garage.
Websites such as In
BACK IT UP: Whether it's your home or office computer, a backup is essential. A simple hard drive that automatically backs up everything stored on your computer is the first line of defense. But if it's damaged in a fire or flood, all your family, financial and business files and photos could be wiped out.
To better protect your hard drive, tech manufacturer ioSafe (iosafe.com) makes a series of hardy protective "safes" for computer hard drives that it claims are waterproof and fireproof, whether submerged in water for three days or burned in intense flames up to 1,500 degrees for 30 minutes.
If disaster strikes, you should leave home or work with copies of these documents. Originals should be kept in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe:
Birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, wills or trusts, military discharge papers and other important "life event" documents
Social Security cards
Credit card numbers and contact information
Medical records, including prescription numbers
Passwords and user names for bank accounts and websites you frequently use
Phone numbers and addresses of relatives, friends, doctors
Federal and state income tax returns for past three years
Receipts for high-end purchases (jewelry, art, high-tech equipment, etc.)