By Rachel Kulhavy • July 03, 2015•Writers in Residence
“How’s the weather in your neighborhood?” may become a primary question in your client consultations. You might think, “Do you really suggest that I ask a client about the weather? What in the world does that have to do with their legal issues?” Depending on your practice area, the weather can play an increasingly important role in properly researching legal questions.
After one of the rainiest springs on record, Memorial Day weekend in Texas gave us record-setting floods. Houses wiped clean from their foundations, lakes overtopping their spillways, and millions of dollars of devastation. The Blanco River crested at 43 feet, which was 30 feet above flood stage, ripping out 100-year oak trees and entire highway bridges in seconds. To put it plainly, that wall of water would be the equivalent of a 5-story building strapped onto rocket blasters rolling through the middle of your house.
The devastating hurricane years of 2005 and 2006 taught us valuable lessons about storm readiness, but it's never a bad idea to keep refreshing ourselves on emergency preparedness, especially when it affects probate or estate planning. (Note: this is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be legal advice, but rather talking points to bring emergency awareness to your clients.) Admittedly, some of these are harder to put into practice yourself. I'm still guilty of not having a comprehensive disaster kit for my own household.
- Is their property located in a FEMA flood zone? Are they aware of flood insurance regulations? If the client is a renter, what damage does their renters' insurance policy (if applicable) cover?
- Does the client know where all of her important documents are located, such as: copies of wills, insurance policies, bank account and tax information, utility and credit card account information, title paperwork? Does your client need help managing her files or locating lost documents?
- Where is the local emergency shelter typically staged? Is there a plan for family members to locate each other in case cellular towers or electricity is unavailable (especially important if minor children are involved)?
- Does the client understand how federal disaster declarations affect monetary assistance? Is there a contingency plan in place in case FEMA assistance or insurance payments are delayed or denied? Can they obtain temporary housing and transportation?
- How will the client's employment be affected if they lose transportation or shelter?
With these points in mind, let's all try and be better prepared so that we can assist our clients and our communities in times of emergency. May everyone have a safe Fourth of July!