Preparing For Hurricane Season: What You Need To Do Legally To Protect Your Family Financially
Let’s face it – South Florida got incredibly lucky last year. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record, generating an extraordinary 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes. Florida was touched by only four of the named storms with Hurricane Eta being the only system to make direct landfall in the state. But if we look back at the past five years, every season has been “above-normal”—including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Laura—resulting in more than $600 billion in damage and hundreds of deaths.
And it looks like this year will be no different.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 through November 30 every year. For 2021, a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 5 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher) is expected. If there is any real indicator that we are in for another intense hurricane season, look no further than Tropical Storm Claudette. Not only did the system develop well before the third-named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season has historically formed – which normally occurs around August 13 – but it has left at least 14 dead and produced an unusually destructive EF2 tornado in Alabama, a strength normally associated with much more intense tropical cyclones. Therefore, we simply cannot count on being as fortunate as we were last year and must use this time to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
When most people think about hurricane preparedness, hurricane kits packed with water, non-perishable food, flashlights and first aid kits are the first thing that comes to mind. Images of shuttered windows, boarded-up businesses and tarps covered with sandbags are also not far behind. But all too often, we forget one of the most important things we need to do to protect ourselves and our families should the worst come our way – be certain that we are insured properly and covered legally.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming they are already covered for damage caused by hurricanes. In fact, the number one cause of property damage due to a hurricane is storm surge, and most homeowners insurance policies actually exclude flood damage, meaning your flooded house and ruined belongings won’t be covered by your policy. Furthermore, in many coastal areas, home insurers partially or completely exclude wind damage, one of the most common claims made even after the weakest of storms. Not understanding what’s covered by your policy can be a crucial error, therefore it is important to review your homeowners coverage with your insurance agent, and even double check the paperwork with your attorney.
Here are more crucial ways you can prepare for hurricane season to protect your family from financial disaster after a natural one:
- Document Your Home & Belongings. Create a home inventory by recording all of your belongings, especially detailing the more expensive items, and ensure this list is accessible through cloud-based storage. Take pictures and video of your home’s interior and exterior to provide proof of any specific effects the storm has on your property.
- Secure Important Documents. Ensure important documents like wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, health care proxies, titles, deeds, birth certificates, passports any anything else that you can think of are stored in a secured safe that is both waterproof and fireproof. Be sure to leave the combination to the safe with someone you trust in the event that you cannot be there to unlock it.
- Make Necessary Improvements to Your Home. Now is the time to ensure that you have access to your hurricane shutters and that they are fully operational. Be proactive by cutting down any trees or large branches that overhang your property and remove all outdoor furniture, umbrellas, grills etc. Anything you can prevent is a claim you don’t have to make!
If you are hit by a hurricane, remember to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. Most policies include vague wording that states claims must be made “promptly,” so don’t take too long to file yours. Having said that, you will most likely need to be patient as your insurance company may become backlogged with claims in a short amount of time. To ensure your claim is taken care of as promptly and fairly as possible, it is best to have an experienced attorney handle the process so you can focus on your family, your resources and getting your life back together.