This is really the "if hit by a bus" list that financial planners have been recommending you compile for your heirs. If you think of the list that way, you will be reminded of your mortality and you will not want to write it. But think of the families displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita or by California wildfires, and the psychological barrier collapses. The list becomes a much easier sell now, said Brent Neiser, a director for the National Endowment for Financial Education. "It forces you to think," he said. Here is what else you have to do to protect your records and yourself: RECORD: Once you have made your basic list, save it on a U.S.B. flash drive. A 256-megabyte drive, which you can buy for $20 or even less if you catch a store promotion, gives you enough space for that file and all the other suggestions mentioned below. Several of the big flash drive makers, like SanDisk and Lexar Media, are now selling more advanced drives that allow you to encrypt the data so others cannot read it without knowing the alphanumeric key that unlocks the code. Some are even shock proofed with heavier rubber and plastic coatings. Those will cost about $10 to $20 more, but are certainly worth it when you consider the sensitivity of the data on them. It is also a good idea to copy the contents onto additional drives for backup and for other members of the family. BONUS: When you are listing the credit cards, also note the credit limits so you will know how much you could spend in an emergency. If your credit cards are at their limits now, you are not going to have any cushion to fall back on. So start paying off balances, beginning with the card carrying the highest interest rate. SCAN: Some important documents are on paper and you will want copies of them with you: tax returns for the last three years (Form 1040 is all you will need in an emergency), a recent pay stub, birth certificates, marriage license, the deed to your home and insurance policy pages that list your coverage. If you do not have a scanner or a printer with a flat scanner, take the pile of documents down to a copy center like Kinko's to scan. Record the image files on the U.S.B. drive. BONUS: Take the opportunity to check your insurance coverage for potential disasters like flooding. With homes appreciating in value, you may also find you need to increase coverage. SHOOT: Some personal finance advisers suggest that you make a spreadsheet listing everything you own and enter the date and price paid and then file all the receipts and ... yeah, yeah. You will never do it. But creating a detailed inventory of everything you own need not be a major chore when technology comes to the rescue. Many households now have a camcorder or digital camera. Walk around each room and take a picture of each item. Then, either store all the photos on a memory card (unless you live in the Biltmore mansion, you can load all the photos on a 256- or 512-megabyte card). Or you can transfer them to the same U.S.B. drive with your other documents.
I have an iPod and am using that for daily backups instead of a flashdrive. But either way this is a good way to carry a lot of information very easily. Make sure to put it in a ziplock baggie to keep water out.
Don't forget to keep a copy of the activation and registration codes for your software. You don't want to have to buy your software all over again.
You don't really need a scanner a digital camera will do just fine. Just take pictures of your documents.
As a backup to your backup you can get a gmail account (2GB) and email the file to yourself, but don't use this as your only backup.
You would also want to burn these files to CD and mail them to out-of-state family or friends. Make sure to use a box and not an envelope, I've gotten a lot of snapped CDs that were sent in padded envelopes. Or use DVD cases as they are a lot tougher.