In case you may not know this about me, I am a former military spouse, and I know a thing or two about the whole bug out process. We moved every couple of years for 25 years.
Since my man retired (2014) from the active duty gig, we have moved twice, one daughter married and moved across the ocean, multiple kids entered and/or graduated college, my son became a Marine, we built a house, we rented out another house that we own, and multiple children traveled out of the country.
You would think that exiting the military meant things might settle down to a generally slower pace. Yeah. Not so much. Quick access to financial information or legal paperwork was and still is critical.
Just last year my house flooded, and two family members passed away in another state, including my mother. My sister and brother-in-law lived through two hurricanes in Puerto Rico. (You can read about their adventures here.) We’ve watched horrible shootings, earthquakes, and fires on TV. When these events happen, and they will, raw emotions take over your brain, leaving little of it left to function normally.
When we moved to Europe years ago, I put together a notebook that contained all our important paperwork and it stayed in my possession throughout the looooonnng moving process. It gave me access to all my documents at a moment’s notice.
Though much as changed since our adventure in Europe, we seem to continually need quick access to important papers. Right in the middle of our last move, one daughter packed for a trip to Brazil. I was so exhausted both mentally and physically, that I forgot about my bug out book, and the fact that it contained passports, etc. It was set aside without a care, ready, weeks before. But then I forgot I had set it aside and ended up going through a horde of boxes to find the box with our files that hopefully contained passports. With each box I came up empty-handed.
In desperation, and in tears, I sat down in the middle of the floor and quietly remembered where it was. I was so organized that I forgot I was organized? Welcome to my life.
Here’s another personal scenario. Last year I sat by my mother’s hospital bed, who lived in another state with my dad, and made blind decisions about her neurological care without knowing the medications she was taking, or details about such things as her pacemaker. My dad is hearing impaired so he was only hearing about half of what the doctors were telling us. They kept looking to me for decisions, and I felt helpless and uninformed. I desperately needed a list of her prescriptions, right then.
As a result of my life always being ‘temporary’, and all of these monumental events, I tend to live with the ‘worst case scenario’ in mind. I need to be prepared.
Imagine these scenarios:
- your house is burning (i.e. This is Us) with only a few seconds to grab things
- your house is in the direct path of a hurricane or tornado or wild fire or flood
- one of your kids is missing
- something happens to your spouse
- your house is burglarized
- you need to make medical decisions for a loved one in another state
The purpose of this book is to help your brain NOT have to work extra when a disaster happens. Ask yourself: What would I need if (insert scenario here) happened? And then force yourself to travel that road, if only for a few minutes, to write down what information and documentation you’d need.
I could provide links for 3 hole notebooks here as well as plastic sheet protectors and dividers, but, if you’re like me, you’ve got these somewhere in your house already. For my book, I put all my paper contents in plastic sheet protectors, so that the book is somewhat water proof. The following is a list of important items to include:
All bank account information
You’ll need your bank names and addresses, websites, phone numbers, as well as account numbers. Include them all: Checking, Savings, Loans, Credit Cards, as well as login info to all. Also include 401K information for each spouse, life insurance info through place of employment. Do you also use a service for budgeting like Mvelopes, Mint, or Everydollar? Write down logins for these too.
Include a current photo of your children with height and weight, and social security numbers, fingerprints, birth markings etc. Do you have contact information of your children’s friends and/or their families already in your phone? Include those as well, in case your phone is inaccessible.
Marriage licenses/ Divorce decrees
I have the original in my book.
Birth certificates/ Adoption documents
You will need these for all family members. When I put together my book before we moved overseas, I ordered several copies of all of our birth certificates. My children were born in multiple states so I ordered them online and received them all within a month or so.
You’ll have to do a little digging to find where to order them but most state and county government offices are user friendly with information readily available online. Having extra notarized originals was helpful when it came time to give them to my adult children.
Just like birth certificates, these documents are important for insurance claims and tax documentation later.
Social security cards
Include either originals or copies for all family members. When my rising teens reached the age of work applications, they knew exactly where to find their social security cards.
It’s so helpful to have copies.
Titles of autos and VIN numbers
In my book I just have VIN numbers listed,copies of registration, as well as license plate numbers. Also include original titles, or bank note information.
Savings bond serial numbers
U.S. savings bonds are registered, which is helpful. If you’re uncomfortable keeping them with you, just keep a list of their serial numbers and place them either in a safety deposit box, or fireproof box. BUT, be sure to include information on where that is located and how to access it
MAKE ONE if you don’t have one – for each of you, especially if you have minor children in your care. The future of your children is too important. What are your wishes for them should something happen to both of you? DO THIS TODAY!
Do you have end of life wishes? Cremation or burial? My family watched the ultimate testament of love when my grandfather passed. He had all of his wishes in order, down to the list of pallbearers at his memorial service. My grandmother was completely broken and hardly functioning, and, because of his planning, she didn’t have to do much. He had already made and paid for funeral arrangements for them both. Wow.
If you are active duty military or a veteran, this is a free service at any military installation legal office. If not, LegalZoom.com offers wills and legal documents for any state. Easy.
Life insurance policies
Include policies or a copy, as well as the company, address, phone and policy number.
Include receipts (and appraisals) and photos of large furniture purchases, jewelry, and any valuable items that might have a serial number, like firearms. Do you need to update your insurance or carry a separate policy on these ?
Passports and copies
If you’ve never traveled abroad, you may not have a passport, but maybe now is the time to apply for one. It takes 4-6 weeks to receive it in the mail. If you or your children are traveling outside the country, make sure a family member (not traveling) has a copy of your passport in their possession. I keep passports and a couple of copies of the page with the photo and number in my bug out book.
Include pet photos and vaccination records along with physical descriptions.
Transcripts from high school and college
College and universities require notarized transcripts of high school transcripts in the application process.
Important medical records and medication
Vaccination records are required for any school. What if your spouse or child is incapacitated and cannot speak for himself? What medications do they need? What allergies do they have?
My mother sustained a traumatic brain injury from a fall last year, the second in 5 years. She was in the hospital for weeks, not fully capable of giving medical staff accurate information about her condition. Either I or my dad and I had to act as her advocate with various medical staff in three facilities. I stumbled into the situation not knowing what medications she was taking, and there was many. For the elderly especially, that information is paramount to their care.
Health insurance information
Let’s think through a scenario here. What if your child or loved one needed make medical decisions for one or both of you, the parents. Would they know where to look to find policy numbers and copays or deductible information? There’s no need to include much here, just a name and phone number or website of your medical insurance policy.
Contact phone numbers
What if your phone is stolen or lost? Do you have a hard copy of all your phone numbers and/or addresses in your contacts? Also, be sure to back up your phone often.
Photos of your wallet contents
Your wallet is stolen! What’s in there? Instead of having to go through all the credit card files, just make a list or take photos and print. Credit cards, driver’s license, membership cards should all be included. Honestly, if this happened to me I would not remember what is in there until I needed them. Things like library cards, insurance cards, and membership cards are not at the top of the list of importance, but replacing them is a pain.
My friend recently was hospitalized for surgery and lost his wallet. His wife was irritated that he had not taken photos of everything in it – for just such an event. I told her that I had not done that either. But what a great section in your bug out book! (And mine).
Home security information
Do you have security system passwords? Garage door code? Wifi passwords? It might be helpful to include these here as well. Perhaps you can also include a physical key to your home.
You might ask, “Isn’t it dangerous to have a book containing all this information readily accessible to an intruder in my house?” What is a burglar coming for? Electronics and jewelry, maybe guns if you have them. These are high dollar items, easily sold. He wants to get in and out quickly.
My book is not labeled “BANK ACCOUNT LOG-IN INFO” or some such title on its spine. In fact, it’s not labeled at all. An intruder, most likely, will not take the time to browse through notebooks on a book shelf.
If you do not move often or need access to these papers, perhaps you might feel more comfortable having the originals of these items safely stored in a bank safe deposit box, or at least in a fireproof box in your home or in your safe if you have one.
One last note, update your bug out book regularly. Late summer is a good time to check all info in your bug-out book. Cars are bought and sold. Kids grow and change. Update photos, vaccination records, etc. before schedules get crazy in the fall.
Make your bug out book now. You’ll thank me later.