Getting Your House in Order

Before we talk about some of the fun stuff about getting prepared, lets dive in to some things that seniors need to do first off and that is getting your house in order. Meaning there are few important things that should be done right away before you dive into long term food and water storage and making plans to bug out. If you have not read Disaster Preparedness for Seniors – Part 1, please do, so that you have a bit of context for this and the next couple of posts.

Although this series on preparedness for seniors will apply to the occasional 2- or 3-day power outage or minor disaster, it is primarily about dealing with long term preparedness.  Please see my previous posts on Concerns with our Power Grid and Effects of a Prolonged Power Grid Outage to get a sense of what I am talking about.  If you are not a senior but have elderly family and friends, this should help you in thinking about talking to them about getting prepared.

Estate Planning Documentation

If something happens to you and/or your spouse and you are not prepared from an estate planning standpoint, stress and anxiety will be added on to the survivors who are already grieving over the loss of a loved one. Having to locate important estate documents is the last thing that you want your family to have to deal with. Do your spouse and family a huge favor by getting the appropriate legal documents created and documentation of your estate created and organized.

This information is also very important if you have to bug out due to a disaster. You will not have time to locate it when you have to leave quickly. If you have electronic copies of this documentation outside your home, it will be invaluable if your home is destroyed by a fire, tornado, hurricane or flood.  

This is one of the least favorite things to do in preparedness but can be one of the most important things you can do.  Below are a few of the things you need to do. Our Estate Preparedness Forms Package contains an Overview of Estate Planning that provides more information.

  • Legal Documents – Will, Trusts, Health Care Directives, Power of Attorney for Legal and Medical Issues.
  • Personal Property Inventory – List of your personal property with description, value etc. and video and pictures to back it up. This is needed for insurance claims, police reports and in disposition of your estate when you die.
  • Acquire Burial Services and document what has been done and paid for.
  • Document your bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement plans etc. with contact information and online access information.
  • Document your doctor and pharmacy contact information and your medical history.
  • Document you online accounts and automatic payments.
  • Record contact information for family and friends.

Emergency Health Information

It is a very good idea to have a comprehensive medical history documented, but in a disaster or emergency, there is some key information that needs to be documented and easily accessible for emergency responders, health resources at a shelter and doctors and hospitals at a temporary bug out location. The following are some good items to have documented separately in your Estate Planning Portfolio, your purse and your back pack/luggage:

  • Personal Information like name, address, phone numbers
  • Health Insurance Member ID
  • Language Spoken
  • Emergency Contacts Phone numbers of family and friends
  • Contact Information for doctors, pharmacy and case manager
  • Current major health conditions, disabilities, cognitive impairments, allergies
  • Medications and Dosage
  • Special equipment used like mobility aids, communication devices, medical devices
  • Special Assistance needed

Support Network

A support network is a group of people that can check on you and assist you during a disaster. This network can be family, friends and neighbors but should include a couple of people that are in close proximity to your home. Some things to do:

  • Identify who you would like to be in your network and talk to them to see if they are willing to help. Let them know you would like for them to check on you as soon as possible after a disaster. Offer to do the same for them.

  • Give them a key to your house or let them know where you hide a key outside. Please don’t put the key under the door mat, on top of the door frame or under a potted plant on your porch. It is better to hide it somewhere that is more inconvenient to you but not easily found by someone will wrong motives.

  • Give them a copy of your emergency medical information, contacts and evacuation plans. Let them know of any issues and concerns you have with preparing for disasters.

  • Let them know where your emergency supplies and emergency medical information is located. It would be wise to create an information sheet for each medical device with notes on how to operate it.

  • Notify your support group when you are going out of town and when you have regular doctor visits or other activities and when you regularly are not at home.

  • Ensure they understand how confidential all of this information is.  Especially when you will not be at home and where your spare key is.

Safety in Your Home

There are few things you can do right away that could save your life.

  • Try and declutter your living areas, especially walk ways to reduce the risk of tripping and falling. Broken bones and sprains are much harder on seniors and can lead to complications that can take a while to recover from.

  • Create Fire Emergency Plan that defines what your escape routes will be if there is a fire in your home.  It is simple to do, make a drawing of the outline of the floors in your house showing all of the rooms, doors and windows. Then for each room identify a primary and secondary (if possible) escape route. Designate a meeting place outside of your home for the family to gather after they get out. As soon as possible, dial 911 to get help. You should review your escape routes on a regular basis so they are fresh in your mind.

  • Ensure you have a working smoke detector on each floor and replace the batteries every 6 months. I suggest having a dual sensor alarm (Ionization and Photoelectric) like the top rated First Alert Dual-Sensor Smoke and Fire Alarm. There is a wired and battery powered version. Also, you should replace your detectors after 8 to 10 years just in case the sensing mechanisms have stopped working. The test button only really tests that the battery and alarm are working, not whether the sensing parts are functioning.

  • Have at least one fire extinguisher on each floor. Place one of them near the kitchen, but not near the stove so you can easily get to it. Remember that fire extinguishers are one time use even if you don’t use all of the contents. Once the seal is broken the pressure will start to slowly leak out. Make sure you know how to use a fire extinguisher. There are several good videos on YouTube to learn from.  Your local box stores normally have decent ones but you can also order from Amazon and possibly save some money.  Note: The majority of house fires are due to stoves being left on and unattended. Turn the stove off if you have to do something away from the kitchen.

  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from walls, furniture or anything that could catch fire easily. Remember to turn them off before you leave the house and if you will not be in the room for a while.

  • Have the chimneys to your fireplace and woodstove cleaned every year.

Other things to consider:

  • Make sure that you can easily open the windows in your home so that you can escape through them if necessary. If you can’t, find a contractor that can help fix them. If you are not able to afford it then at least purchase a window breaker for the rooms where the windows will not raise easily. This 10 Pack Car Safety Emergency Escape tool would allow you to have one in each room and your vehicle and share with family and friends. Certainly, breaking a window in your home and having to remove glass before you climb out can be a very dangerous thing but would certainly be better than burning up inside the house. Use a blanket over the window sill to protect yourself.

  • If you have a two-story house you should consider buying escape ladders as an alternate escape route. Amazon has several options such as this one by Hynawin. If you are a senior with limited mobility it will be hard to use the ladder so you should consider moving your bedroom to the first floor if it isn’t already.


Taking care of the things in this post is an important first step for senior preparedness. None of these things are hard to do and are low cost. If you need help doing some of these things see if friends and family or you support network can help. The next post in this series we will discuss what is involved with preparing for Bugging In during a disaster.

If you haven’t completed your Estate Planning Documentation, recorded a property inventory or documented your medical information, our Estate Preparedness Forms Package helps you get this important task completed. There are a lot of checklists on the web that you can print out and write on but our forms package contains 26 editable PDFs and spreadsheets and resources that let you electronically record this information easily. It is only $34.95 and is a bargain for the value. Check out the details on our website.

Have a blessed day!

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  • what me worry?

    So far so good, but a couple of caveats. Since this is Veteran’s Day, if you are using the V.A. as your primary care, or generally relevant care, remember- they are a Federal entity, so state laws are ‘suggestions’ when it come to Powers & Durable Powers of Attorney. Also DNRs (do not resuscitate) Orders are ‘suggestions’ unless done on specific V.A. forms. The same goes for being contacted about a specific patient or getting information on the them. The best thing to do (and a PIA) but will pay off, is to sign and get copies of the V.A. specific forms for everything after they are ‘notarized’ by relevant V.A. personnel. Now to add to this fun? remember that not all documents regarding medical decisions and allowing access will be honored by all civilian hospitals statewide, especially if producing a printed .pdf as proof. The good and simple answer for these issues exists, but is usually ignored. The best thing to do, is get ALL documents Notarized and relevant citations to law should be included in the head notes. It not bullet proof as fed & state laws are dynamic. Dealing with these issues or questions when under mental duress (emergency situations) will lead to mistakes.

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