Natural disasters have caused havoc in more than ten states in recent weeks. Tornadoes swept across Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Georgia, Colorado, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina causing damage and loss of life. Twisters were also reported in Texas and out West in California and in Wyoming. California has also seen wildfires. Earthquakes have shaken Nevada. As if these events aren’t enough, the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season is now underway and forecasters say we will likely experience a well-above average season.
No one can predict when an emergency or disaster situation will occur, but if caught unprepared, a person faces a much greater burden and expense in resolving his or her legal affairs.
Here are five recommendations to assist you in being better legally prepared for natural disasters and other life emergencies:
1) Review your home, auto and life insurance policies and understand your coverage and policy limits. Specifically go over sections pertaining to physical damage caused by fire, hail, wind, tornadoes, flooding, rain, storms, hurricanes and earthquakes. Standard homeowner policies typically cover damage from wind, but not flooding or storm surge. Sometimes flood insurance can be purchased separately. Most standard homeowner insurance also does not cover damage caused by earthquakes. Check with your insurance carrier to determine if a separate earthquake insurance policy can be purchased. Comprehensive auto insurance will likely cover physical damage to vehicles caused by storms and earthquakes. Make sure to review benefit amounts in life insurance policies and update beneficiaries if needed.
2) Create a life document file which is a collection of important legal papers. A life documents file can include identification records such as birth certificate and social security card, contracts, deeds, insurance policies, medical records, photos, and a financial assets inventory. Maintaining records together in one place is beneficial in the event you need to grab them and go in the event you need to evacuate your area quickly.
3) Draft Will, Living Will, and Power of Attorney forms. Tragically, inclement weather events and earthquakes can cause injuries and take lives. Preparing essential legal forms ahead of time can help ensure that your wishes are carried out and lessen the burden on family members. You can prepare legal forms on your own by downloading state-specific documents online or by consulting an attorney in your local area to have documents prepared for you.
4) Store your important papers in a secure place such as a home safe or bank safe deposit box. Since these are vital records with lots of personal information, maintaining them in a secure location is necessary to prevent the misuse of your information.
5) Tell someone you trust about the location of your important documents. It can be an attorney, relative or close friend. Situations may arise where you are unable to communicate and a least one person should know the location of your important papers. You might also keep a back up copy of important records with an attorney if you have one or with a family member who resides in another geographic location.