This has nothing to do with personal injury clients and Social Security disability claimants, but Pamela Yip, the excellent financial columnist for the Dallas Morning News has written an important column about preparing financially for a natural disaster, and recovering after such an event. I highly recommend reading the entire article. Here are excerpts:
The furious storms that spawned vicious tornadoes throughout the South and Midwest remind us how quickly life can change. Storm victims are faced with the daunting task of not only rebuilding homes but also their personal finances.
While you can’t control the storms, you can control how to prepare financially for a natural disaster and what to do afterward.
“Disasters obviously take an emotional toll, causing shock, grief and confusion. And the sudden shock to your financial system can be severe,” said Ted Beck, president and chief executive of the National Endowment for Financial Education. “Following a disaster you may feel panicked or helpless. But it’s important to stay calm, ask for help and exhaust all resources offered to you as a victim.”
Before disaster strikes
Organize your important personal documents. Make front and back copies of key records you may need to prove your identity, such as your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, driver’s license and health insurance cards. Also make copies of your credit and debit cards and home insurance policy.
The Identity Theft Resource Center advises consumers to store important papers in a portable locked box that can be taken with you if you must evacuate or move into an underground shelter.
The center also advises you to “prepare your computer for transport or remove the hard drive and put it in your locked box.” You can also back up your personal data on a thumb drive and take that with you.
Another option is to use the Internet for storage.
“It’s easy and affordable to store irreplaceable items in an online vault,” said Brian McGinley, senior vice president of data risk management at Identity Theft 911. “This includes special family photographs and historical, estate and trust documents.”
Record property identification. For insurance purposes, record the model and serial numbers for big-ticket items such as large-screen TVs, audio equipment, musical instruments and other personal belongings of value.
Set up an emergency fund. Everyone should have this, natural disaster or not.
“Take steps to establish a financial cushion equal to three to six months of living expenses,” said the Texas Society of CPAs. “The fund can help manage other financial crises, such as unemployment. Keep these funds in a safe, easily accessible account, and do not use it unless it’s an emergency.”
Also, have a stash of cash in an emergency kit at home that you can take with you in case you need to evacuate; your bank and ATMs might be damaged.
Draw up a will. If you already have one, now’s the time to update it. If you don’t have one, get started.
Also draw up financial and medical powers of attorney, which empower a trusted person to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated.
After a disaster
Contact your insurance company immediately. Claims are frequently settled in the order in which they are received, so the sooner a claim is submitted, the faster it will be processed, said the Texas Society of CPAs.
Inspect your property and vehicles for damage. Inventory your losses, photograph the damage and save related receipts to assist with claims handling.
It’s OK to make temporary repairs to protect your property, but don’t make any permanent repairs until you’ve talked to an insurance adjuster, the insurance council said.
Assess your financial position. This means taking stock of the income you’ll have in the days and weeks ahead as well as your expenses.
“The first step toward financial recovery is to prepare a plan for managing income, expenses, and debt,” the Texas CPAs group said. “Determine whether you’re eligible for disaster relief funds from federal, state or local governments. Make every effort to keep up with household bills. If this isn’t possible, call creditors to explain the situation and work out a payment plan.”
Protect your personal information. If you’re housed in a community shelter, don’t leave the items in your locked box unwatched under any circumstances
Be mindful of scams. You’re at your most vulnerable after a natural disaster, and con artists often will use a disaster situation to exploit victims.
Bottom line: It’s a lot to keep track of, but following these steps could save you time, money and headaches if your life is ever turned upside down by a natural disaster.