Estate planning is all about being prepared, and at California Trusts Online, we talk a lot about preparing for our own and our loved ones’ deaths and incapacity, but there are other things we should be ready for. Preparing for any type of emergency is important—not just a health emergency. In California, we are particularly at risk for wildfires and earthquakes.
When beginning to prepare for a disaster, use your local hazards to inform what types of items to keep in your emergency kit, since a packing list meant for nation-wide use may be too general or contain items which aren’t necessary for your environment. You can check your local hazards at the Cal OES My Hazards page. There are several different ways to think of your emergency kit—for example, you may want your kit to be geared towards evacuation, or you may want your kit to be focused on sheltering in place with limited power or supplies, or even better, a combination of the two. You may want to consider tangentially related issues, as well. For example, you may not live in an area likely to be evacuated due to wildfire, but you might still be affected by unhealthy air quality, blackouts, or other shortages for which you should prepare.
Remember to consider your lifestyle when creating an emergency kit for evacuations. If you cannot lift heavy objects and your emergency supply kit would be too heavy to carry as a backpack, perhaps putting it in a rolling suitcase or breaking the kit up into several containers and using a collapsible wagon to pull everything to your car would be easier. Conversely, if you live on the top floor of an apartment building, you might want your emergency kit in a backpack rather than a suitcase because it would be easier to carry a backpack down many flights of stairs, since elevators might be unusable.
California Trusts Online has created an example emergency kit. You’ll find the PDF at the bottom of this blog post.
Emergency Alert Systems
There are other ways to prepare for disasters beyond prepping an emergency kit. Many counties, and even some cities or regions have developed emergency notification apps or a way to receive emergency texts. To find these systems, try searching “[your county] emergency alert system” on the internet. Make sure that what you’re downloading or signing up for is from a reputable source, like on your county’s government website. Some counties and cities use the company Nixle to send emergency communications, so you may want to check there, too. (California Trusts Online is not affiliated with Nixle).
In addition to signing up for these local alerts, consider following your county’s fire unit and other local health and emergency agencies on Twitter (look for the blue “verified” check next to the account name) or other social media.
Family Contact Plan
Create a plan with your family about what you will do if a disaster strikes while everyone is at work or school. Consider having an out-of-state family member or close friend act as a contact point in case of communication disruptions.
Protect Your Belongings
Take photos of your house and belongings for insurance and replacement purposes. Remember to photograph inside drawers and closets.
Estate Documents and Other Important Papers
Remember to keep your estate plan safe, too! There are many ways to keep your estate plan safe, including giving copies to your first-choice fiduciary, having a PDF copy wherever you backup your files, and even keeping them in a safe deposit box. Note that with a safe deposit box, it may be sealed after your death. However, your loved ones would still be allowed to go to the safe deposit box and remove any original documents, but the bank will make copies and place the copies in the box.
You can also find short form “card” Advance Health Care Directives to put in your wallet. California Trusts Online has created one which can be found at the bottom of this blog post. Please note that you must have a signed Advance Health Care Directive to use the short form card—the card is not a replacement for an Advance Health Care Directive.
You may find some of these resources helpful.
Cal Fire’s “Prepare for Wildfire”: a website to help you create a wildfire action plan and an emergency supply kit or evacuation bag. It also has tips for preventing fires.
EPA’s Wildfires and Indoor Air Quality Guide: how to protect your house from being smoky inside during a wildfire.
AirNow’s Wildfire smoke factsheet: learn how to protect your lungs from wildfire smoke and how to choose the correct respirator.
AirNow: a good resource for checking your local air quality.
"The Things They Did Not Carry" by Jessica Stiles: A Medium article with recommendations from 2018 Camp Fire survivors about what they wished they had brought with them when they evacuated. (If you don’t have a Medium account, you should still be able to view three articles per month).
CDC’s Earthquake page: how to prepare for an earthquake and what to do in the aftermath.
CDC’s Natural Hazards page: learn about different types of disasters and how to prepare for each of them.
California’s MyShake App: an app which is a statewide earthquake warning system.
Emergency Kit Supply Lists:
Be sure to check out our emergency kit supply list and Advance Health Care Directive wallet card below.
If you still need to create your Advance Health Care Directive, click here to begin the questionnaire today!