The images from Hurricane Irma are still fresh on our screens, and we are reaching out with money, supplies, or time to support those in need. Soon, though, it will be time to step back and think about how we handle these natural disasters more broadly.
What to do if one were to strike your own area, and your own clients? While you can’t prevent the next earthquake, nor the next destructive storm like Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, you can help clients be prepared so that if disaster does strike, its recovery can be safer, a bit less bumpy, and at least a little quicker.
One strategy is to make sure that you have a disaster recovery plan for your own firm, for your own sake and also so that you’re in a better position to assist your clients more quickly. Hurricanes and earthquakes aren’t relevant in your part of the country? You could still be hit by a fire, a flood or even an extended power outage. In my own organization, we have prepared four recovery plans for four different disaster scenarios.
Another strategy is to recommend that clients keep electronic copies of their important documents and store them offsite (i.e. not at home) where they can be accessible from anywhere via the internet. As you’re well aware, the loss of important legal, financial and insurance papers presents one major problem clients need to overcome in a disaster. And on top of this, not having access to some of these papers can be a multiplying barrier to the recovery effort itself. Proving ownership of a home, the value of one’s belongings, the presence of an insurance policy, and the existence of an estate plan, to name a few, can be essential in moving through the disaster recovery process. Any difficulty clients experience in obtaining these documents can add delay to their recovery effort.
Firms can take many approaches to the electronic availability of clients’ documents. At one end of the spectrum, some firms simply recommend that their clients create offsite electronic copies of documents, and that’s that. At the other end, some firms proactively select one of the many document banks available for online storage and actually upload the clients’ estate plan and related documents to it so the firm is confident and comfortable that their clients are protected.
Similarly, lack of access to important medical information can become a crisis for clients in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, and beyond. In a natural disaster, it’s more likely that clients will be treated outside their local network of hospitals and doctors, where their medical records are stored. Moreover, when people are displaced in a disaster, getting refills of their medicines can become a critical, urgent need. Not having all their medications with them, or not having a complete list of their medications with them, can potentially put clients’ health at risk rather quickly.
To address this situation, firms can take similar approaches to those above. Some simply recommend that clients take action, and others actively register their clients with advance directives registries / emergency medical information repositoriesto to ensure quick access to this information regardless of geography.
While you can’t do anything to help replace the sentimental objects lost in a disaster, there are at least things that you can do as a firm, and that your clients can do as individuals, to preserve the critical information that can help them weather and recover from such a crisis.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank® (docubank.com), which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 250,000+ enrollees are available 24/7/365 through the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., as well as access to an online safe for storage of digital assets and other vital documents. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A member of the Philadelphia Estate Planning Council, the International Society of Advance Care Planning and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, Randi is active in health education and public engagement related to advance care planning/advance directives. She serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative and as a board member of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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