Life with MS

Natural Disaster - Safeguard Your Key Data

By Martin M. Shenkman, Esq.

Earlier this year, devastating tornadoes wreaked havoc and caused death and destruction throughout the Midwest and South. While personal safety and rebuilding homes are a priority for so many affected, there is a general lesson for us all in this tragedy: We all need to be prepared. When you, or a loved one, face the challenges of MS, that preparation is ever more important. Preparation, organization, and creative planning will not only help you weather the storms, but also help you better deal with the challenges MS will throw your way.

For weather and other emergencies, many people will keep an emergency “bug-out” kit at the ready. This is a bag that has critical supplies to get through an emergency of about three days. It will typically include food, clothing, a blanket, emergency radio, perhaps a solar charger for your cell phone, etc. For those with MS a reminder note to pack medicine that may be refrigerated should be clipped to the bag so no one forgets in the panic and stress an emergency often brings.

But apart for the pure physical preparations for an emergency, there are financial and estate planning steps to take as well. These can help you and your loved ones get through a host of life crises, including not only natural disasters, but an MS exacerbation as well. These are not substitutes for other precautions, but they are steps that many would benefit tremendously from taking. Better organization will mean less problems and less stress, both of which will help you and your loved ones get through those bumps in the road with less difficulty.

If you have an exacerbation, a trusted family member who has the passwords to access your key computer and financial data described below can step in and transition your financial, tax, and legal matters until you can resume, or until other arrangements can be made.

• Use Quicken or a comparable software product. Having everything automated saves lots of time, makes back up easy, and it provides a great historical record that can prove an invaluable road map for anyone stepping in to help you in any type of emergency.

• Don’t use Quicken only for your checkbook, use it fully. Get every account listed in the software; complete the balance sheet items and more. This will create a comprehensive picture of your entire financial life.

• Set up reminders to pay key bills or renew key insurance policies, permits, etc. These reminders can focus someone helping in an emergency on the most important items, like making sure your monthly mortgage is paid.

• Get copies of every key document and scan them. You can buy an inexpensive scanner for as little as $100.

• Scan lab and radiology reports, results of neurological reports and testing, drug data and prescriptions, and more.

• Scan key documents like your deed, mortgage, will, any trusts, powers of attorney, employment contracts, tax returns, shareholders' agreements, and more.  

• It’s simple, cheap and easy. Don’t try to do this all at once. Do a little bit each week and in the course of a year you’ll have your entire “paper-life” on computer and safeguarded.

• Most legal documents other than wills and certain estate planning documents might include a clause “a photocopy, PDF, or facsimile of these documents shall be as valid as an original.” Check with your lawyer.

• If you are injured and your designated agent can find your power of attorney in a PDF, they might be able to use it until they can locate an original. Don’t count on this, but if your entire town is devastated your originals may not be accessible, so it is at least worth a try.

• Encrypt your laptop and PDA. As you add more and more to it encryption becomes critically important in the event it is lost or stolen. But encryption can work against you if you don’t inform key people of the passcodes to get access.

• Get an over the Internet back up service like They’re really inexpensive and can back up everything on a regular basis. Sugarsync offers great support for a modest fee. That can help you get everything set up quickly and easily. It can also help anyone stepping into your shoes get quick phone support.

• Make a “mirror back up” of your laptop and store it someplace safe other than your home or office so that it increases the likelihood of being able to get up and running quickly. Online services copy your data files, not software and laptop layout. So if you have a mirror back up on an encrypted portable hard drive, you can simply recreate your lost/ destroyed laptop with little effort. The cost of the software to do this is pretty inexpensive and the cost of portable hard drives has continued to plummet. You can buy a more than adequate one for under $100. Remember to periodically update that mirror backup. If you use you laptop for work, not just fun and personal financial and legal matters, this is really essential.

• If everything is destroyed you can buy a cheap netbook computer and immediately access all account details, financial information, records of bills to pay and more. This detail will:

  • Give you all the details you need to address service disruptions.
  • It will assure that your key documents are safeguarded no matter what happens. Don’t rely on your professionals or others to have safeguarded these. They may not have.
  • The reminders and copies of key documents will help others step in if you are injured and address urgent matters for you. The weather disasters in the Midwest and South were tragic. Take heed and make precautions now to protect yourself and your love ones’ financial and legal interests before a weather, health, or other tragedy affects you.

Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, AEP, PFS, JD is an attorney in Paramus, NJ and founded the charity He is the author of 40 books and over 800 articles. Marty and his wife Patti, who has MS, travel the country for 6 plus weeks a year and lecture to professional and consumer audiences on planning for chronic illness. Free information is available on their website. You can follow their travels on their facebook page

(Last reviewed 8/2012)