Are you prepared for an emergency or natural disaster?

The hurricanes that have hit the US in the last couple of months have left horrific devastation in their path. Not only are people dealing with clean up from the damage, but they are dealing with various legal issues.  Some of those legal issues involve insurance claims, landlord tenant issues, and possibly bankruptcy as a result of all the loss and overwhelming financial burden as a result. In Michigan, it is not likely that we will see the devastating effects of a hurricane, but there are natural disasters that we could experience, such as a tornado, heat wave, flood, or blizzard, just to name a few.  Are you prepared if a natural disaster strikes close to home?  

There are many different legal issues that arise after the dust settles from a natural disaster.  If a person owns their home, they may have to address insurance claims for damage.  They may find out that they do not have the coverage they thought they did and as a result have damages that are not covered. What coverage might be necessary to protect against the risks of a natural disaster and does it make sense to obtain that coverage? One way to protect yourself for future disasters, is to have your policies reviewed regularly by an agent that will look at the policy with an eye towards a natural disaster.  

Other legal issues arise in the residential rental situation.  A lease agreement may not fully spell out the rights and duties of the landlord and tenant if a natural disaster strikes and the property is damaged.  If there is mold that grows as a result of water damage, what rights does the tenant have to remedy that condition so it is safe to live in?  If the property is destroyed by a natural disaster, what obligation does the landlord have towards the tenant? These are answers that you should know before entering into a lease agreement and ensure that this type of situation is covered. You should also make sure that there is insurance coverage to assist in the losses that may ensue.

Many times the overwhelming loss and financial burden of a natural disaster leaves a family with no option but to file for bankruptcy.  Sometimes having the proper insurance coverage can make all the difference in making sure the financial burden is minimized, but if that is not an option, bankruptcy may be the only way out.

Finally, there are many legal documents that get lost and destroyed when natural disaster strikes.  Not only do people lose titles to vehicles, deeds to homes, but they may also lose their estate planning documents.  Hopefully, they have kept these documents in a safe place but we can not always protect against every disaster and loss.  One way to minimize the risk of damage is to put the documents in a fire safe lock box in the home.  Another inexpensive way, is to put important legal documents in a Ziploc bag and place them in your freezer.  This could provide some protection against water damage and hopefully you can find them after disaster strikes.  Having to re-create all your estate planning documents could simply add an additional financial burden on top of the damage and loss of property.

There are steps you can take now to try to minimize legal issues in the event a natural disaster or emergency should arise.  This will hopefully get you thinking of steps you can take in your own situation to minimize these risk.