On the road to Joplin to cut up trees and brush in the cleanup effort, I am thinking about my own preparedness for disaster. We know that experience is what you gain from your mistakes, but the wisest people are those who can gain from others’ experiences, whether good or even tragic.

On the road to Joplin to cut up trees and brush in the cleanup effort, I am thinking about my own preparedness for disaster. We know that experience is what you gain from your mistakes, but the wisest people are those who can gain from others’ experiences, whether good or even tragic.

One thousand people had no plans to die or become injured 10 days ago. A month ago, an acquaintance of mine about my age suffered a massive heart attack while driving home from the airport and died instantly. So my first question is whether my wife would have enough assets and income if I died today, whatever the circumstances.

But just as with the tornado, more of us by percentage are disabled each day at a given age than die. Thus disability income insurance is critically important to provide cash flow when we still need to work for our income. Many workers are underinsured for this risk.

Sixty-five to seventy percent of your gross pay is a wise goal for protection. If you pay the premiums (not your employer), any benefits you receive are income tax free, and is about the limit of what most companies will underwrite.

Also we think most of accidents but illnesses are the culprit almost two-thirds of the time. Your medical insurance makes certain the doctor or hospital gets paid, but you have to look out for yourself, too.

Next, do you have an up-to-date will to minimize the expense and uncertainty for your family? I never cease to be amazed at figures for those who die intestate when it is so important and so relatively inexpensive to have. Most of your assets may actually pass by beneficiary or joint tenancy, but a properly drafted and executed will is just good, cheap insurance as a backup even if no probate procedure becomes necessary.

In your younger life, you might not have many assets, but if you have minor children, prepare one just to make sure your wishes are known for their care and upbringing. I also usually recommend creating a contingent trust for their benefit so that you don’t dump a lot of money onto their shoulders at age 18.

Concerning your legal and financial affairs in general, have you thought through and communicated with your spouse about what you have, the location of documents and what procedures would be necessary to administer the details? Are your beneficiaries all correct? It is not anyone’s favorite conversation or activity, but this stitch in time will definitely save time and perhaps heartache for those you love. It is natural for one person of any couple to be better at handling these things, but the other should have more than a casual knowledge of the plans.    

Another question is what three items in your home would be most important to you to save. In the case of a fire or tornado, we may not even have time for any physical items, but we can consider preserving some things in different ways.

For example, my son Joe uses an Internet service to upload and store an infinite number of digital photographs. As many pictures as he is taking of his first child, infinite should be about the right number. It costs about $40 per year. In my case, I need to scan the photos I want to have from the past 40 years so they are not lost or destroyed without being backed up.

As we pay tribute to those who have gone on before and helped to provide us with such a fantastic life in these United States, what steps of preparedness do we need to take for ourselves and our loved ones?