Several tornadoes have touched down over the past two weeks in highly populated areas spanning almost the entirety of the Midwest United States, causing catastrophic damage. The storms and in some instances, flooding have devastated hundreds of buildings and homes, causing death and destruction in its path.

Many have asked about what do I take when I have just minutes to leave my home when a warning is sounded? The financial consequences of having an emergency exit plan and failing to keep your important documents in order can be significant. I recommend clients create a comprehensive folder including a table of contents of documents family members can access in case of an emergency. You can store the folder (sealed=waterproof) with the documents in your home. When you have to leave with only moments to spare, you will have just one folder to throw into the car avoiding a flood or taking to the basement in a tornado.

Here is a list of the most important documents you’ll need. You should organize and update them every few years to reflect changes in assets and preferences. Some documents such, as copies of tax returns or recent child-support payments, need to be updated more often.

An original will and the revocable trust are the most important documents to keep on file. A will or trust allows you to dictate who inherits your assets and, if your children are underage, their guardians. It is also a good way to make sure your executor has the names and contact information of your attorneys, numbers and location of your bank accounts and financial advisers.

Keep documentation of housing and land ownership, cemetery plots, vehicles, stock certificates and savings bonds; any partnership or corporate operating agreements; and a list of brokerage and escrow mortgage accounts.

Possibly the most important health-care document to complete in advance is a durable health-care power-of-attorney. This allows your designee to make health-care decisions on your behalf. This is vital, in case of injury or accidents from the storm.

Copies of life-insurance policies are among the most important documents for your family to have. Family members need to know the name of the carrier, the policy number and the agent associated with the policy. I also recommend you draw up a list of pensions, annuities, individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s for your spouse and children. If your heirs don’t know about these accounts, they won’t be able to lay claim to them, and the money could be lost.

Ensure your spouse/partner knows where you have stored your marriage license and military discharge papers. For divorced people, it is important to leave a copy of the divorce judgment and decree. Those documents may describe child support, alimony and property settlements and also, may list the division of investments.

If you have these documents and papers in one place and in one file, it simply means you have one less thing to worry about when the call to leave comes.  Most importantly, know where you should go, be it a basement or shelter to ride out the fury, or exiting the area in a vehicle to avoid the flooding.

Be Educated! Be Proactive!