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Financial Protection From Natural Disasters: Surviving Hurricane Harvey

September 11

Greetings from Ground Zero of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. A native Houstonian, I survived Tropical Storm Allison, a system that literally sat on Houston for days and caused over $1 billion in damage to the Texas Medical Center alone. In 2008, there was Hurricane Ike, and until this past weekend Houstonians would always try to one up each other by recounting how many days they lived without electricity. Hurricane Harvey, however, will live in infamy as the week when the meteorologists nailed it and when literally millions of people held their collective breaths praying that they wouldn't be one of those people rescued from their roof by helicopters combing subdivisions for survivors.

During Harvey's downpours, I emailed my clients a few recommendations for immediate actions to take that would help financially protect their property, even if the floods won the day. In the spirit of full disclosure, I had neglected these steps – you know, the lawyer without a will and the doctor who never seeks medical help – but now I'm happy to say that all my financial protections are in order, and yours should be too. Here are the basics of what I encourage, no urge, all of you to do the minute you get home tonight, BEFORE Mother Nature's wrath visits your neighborhood:

  • Take pictures of all your legal documents (driver's license, passport, Social Security cards, insurance documents, birth certificates, wills, credit cards, etc.). Don't assume you can take them with you – many Houstonians literally swam from their homes or walked in chest high water to get to safety with only the clothes on their backs.
  • Take pictures or a video of every room in your house and cover details as much as is reasonable. Don't forget clothes in the closet. The more you have documented, the easier it will be to defend your insurance claim and the faster you can start rebuilding your life.
  • Upload the photos to the Cloud if you can, or email them to your financial advisor or planner for safekeeping. If you have an electronic financial plan, such as one using software like MoneyGuide Pro or EMoney, upload your photos to your "vault" and then they will be safe.

When dealing with natural disasters, understanding your insurance coverage is critical. You know I can't give legal advice, but fortunately, one of my clients, Richard Wilson of Kerr Wilson, PC, is an attorney very knowledgeable on the subject. Here are a few of his helpful hints on successfully navigating insurance claims:

  1. Know your insurance. While there are exceptions, the standard Texas homeowners' policy does not cover loss due to flood. You can get flood insurance through NFIP, which is specifically for floods and can often be purchased from the same agent that sold you homeowners' insurance.
  2. If water got in through the roof or the windows due to wind, that is covered by your homeowners' policy. Wind-driven rain is different from rising water.
  3. If you suffered a loss and need to make a claim, the sooner you make your claim the better. Call now! You are not the only one, so the sooner you call the sooner an adjuster can get to you.
  4. Find a contractor to help you; preferably the one who will perform your repairs. While the majority of insurance adjusters are good people, they are not contractors. They do not perform repairs. If your contractor is with you, then she or he can show the insurance company what needs to be done, why, and how much it will cost.
  5. If you have comprehensive coverage on your car (Part D.3.), that covers flood damage.

On a personal note, I would like to say how proud I am to be a Houstonian, watching how our citizens are pushing themselves to their limits to help perfect strangers as well as friends and family. Whether it's doing laundry, tearing out Sheetrock, or providing food and shelter, we are all pulling together for the long road ahead to repair our city.

Finally, although I don't own a boat, I did help rescue a furry flood victim. His name is Milo and I've already spoken to his owner. He's a sweetie and brought smiles to the whole family during a very sad time.