Have a Financial Plan for Disaster Relocation

Ask a Specialist: How Do I Handle the Financial Aspects of Relocation from a Wildfire?

LOGAN, UT – Wildfires and similar disasters can impact a family in many ways. Besides the immediate risk to personal safety and potential damage to property, a wildfire can also cause financial concerns, including the need to relocate. Relocating during a disaster can create many challenges such as unexpected financial costs and limited access to financial resources, documents and personal belongings. Consider these recommendations to manage finances in the event of a wildfire.

  • Make contact with your lender if you are a homeowner. If your home has been damaged or you have been evacuated and it will impact your ability to make payments on time, your lender needs to know.
  • Gather and organize important financial and personal documents and keep them in a binder, box or folder. Your documents should include the following:

Bills. Make sure you have a list of monthly bills. This might include statements from utility companies and credit cards as well as loan details on car, home and student loans. You will need information on where to send payments, when they are due and contact information to let those you owe know if you are having trouble making payments or need to cancel the service until you are back home.

Legal documents. This includes birth, adoption and death certificates, marriage license and divorce decrees, passports/green cards, wills, power of attorney documents, lease agreements, mortgage notes or deeds of trust, registration and title papers for vehicles and personal identification documents such as driver’s licenses and access cards. If you have served in the military, include a current military ID or appropriate discharge documents.

Financial documents. Gather insurance documents for property, health, life and automobiles. Also include last year’s tax returns, property taxes, Social Security/Medicaid/Medicare statements, bank statements and retirement/investment account information. Include documents such as paystubs, child support, alimony agreements and proof of benefits. If you have an inventory of your home for insurance purposes, include that as well. If you have not made an inventory, take the time to make one.

Health documents. Make sure you have health insurance cards, immunization records, contact information for your doctors and a list of any medications your family needs.

Having these documents in one place will make it easy for you to quickly gather what you need and leave home if it becomes necessary. It will help reduce your stress during times of duress, allowing you to avoid late payments, unnecessary charges and save you the time and money it would take to replace important documents. Consider keeping copies of these documents in a safety deposit box. When you choose a spot in your house to keep your document binder or container, remember to put it somewhere safe that can be accessed easily but isn’t obvious to thieves or liable to be accidentally damaged or thrown out.

For further information on organizing financial documents, visit the Cache County Extension site.

  • Prepare a 72-hour kit. Relocations from wildfires are often short term and precautionary, but having a kit with clothes, food, medication and toiletries that will last your family for 72 hours can help in many ways. Don’t forget to include emergency cash. When you put the kit together, consider how it is stored. A kit that is spread out over two or three backpacks will be much easier to grab quickly than one packed in a large container.
  • Save for emergencies. Relocation can be expensive. You may have to pay for a hotel, adjust travel arrangements, pay more for prepared foods if you no longer have access to a stove or refrigerator and replace items that you need in the short term. Insurance may cover belongings damaged by a disaster, but it can take time for claims to be processed. In the meantime you will need funds to pay for unanticipated expenses.
  • Finally, have a plan for emergencies. Know how you can contact each member of your family and decide where you will go if you need to relocate. If you have pets or animals, consider how they can be assisted in an emergency as well. Identify in advance what items are important for your family to grab in case of an emergency. If there is a fire in your area, make sure you stay up to date on its location and keep your vehicle fueled and ready to drive.

Dealing with a disaster is a challenge, but being prepared can help you and your family cope.

Direct column topics to: Julene Reese, Utah State University Extension writer, Logan, Utah, 84322-4900; 435-797-0810; julene.reese@usu.edu

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  • Lucas Martin

    Family Finance Faculty, Assistant Professor
    Utah State University Extension Statewide

    P: 435-797-9108

  • Julene Reese

    Utah State University Extension writer
    Utah State Office

    P: 435-797-0810