Houston under water. Puerto Rico destroyed. Central Florida battered. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma can be a sobering experience. Many clients and friends walked away from their Florida homes, prepared to lose everything. Most of us in Central Florida were very lucky and have our power back. The grocery store aisles are almost full again. The curbs still are littered with tree branches and other debris, a reminder that things aren’t entirely back to normal.
Hurricane season isn’t over. We have a preparation list for you. Beyond bottles of water, canned goods, propane, identification and cash, here are the necessary legal safeguards you need to take for yourself and your family:
1. Durable Power of Attorney – This is one of the most important documents that every adult over age 18 needs to have in place. In the event that you can’t take care of your banking or insurance needs, this document would allow a trusted agent to help you take care of your affairs.
2. Living Will and Healthcare Surrogate – If you are hospitalized and unable to communicate, these documents name a loved one to consent to your medical care. It’s so important to discuss your wishes and advance directives before your family is put in a position of second-guessing what you would want.
3. Last Will & Testament –Handling your estate can be very stressful, time-consuming and expensive without an estate plan in place. You may need a trust-based plan, you may need a Will-based plan – but the worst option is to be without either one.
4. Make sure your adult children have items 1-3 in place. Once they’re 18, you are no longer their legal guardian. This is why we say that young adults need estate planning documents, too.
5. Let your family know how to access your documents. Where are the originals? Safeguard copies in the cloud in addition to leaving copies with your family or agent. Load them onto a flash drive to put in your purse, too.
6. Include PDFs of your insurance and flood policies in the same electronic file. While you’re at it, put all the policies and associated phone numbers in the same place. Keep a hard copy summary of your insurers in case of power outage, water damage, or if you need to evacuate.
7. Take photos of your property, inside and out. Before the storm hits, document the condition of everything, and email the photos to yourself to get the timestamp. Most insurance companies are very good, but there are some that will push back as hard as you let them. Don’t get discouraged. Document, document, document, and that will help you prevail.
8. Develop a list of your digital assets including passwords. Assume the worst. Imagine you have no cell phone, towers, or a working computer. Even if the agent you named in your Durable Power of Attorney could work to make mortgage payments and arrange roofing repairs, can she find your insurance policy and get into your bank accounts? If your computer was trashed, would you be able to recover your Bitcoin wallet?
9. Put your passport, social security card and birth certificate in a waterproof/fireproof container. Make sure that you can grab it easily in the event of an evacuation. You get points if it’s neon colored and can’t be lost among a sea of manila files.
These things are usually on the bottom of everyone’s “when I get around to it” list. But do them now, while you still remember the storm. If you don’t have these documents, call our office and let us help.