As the extreme weather season begins, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and other natural disasters threaten to bring a swarm of civil legal problems for Cleveland and Bradley County residents, as well as the region, from accessing critical disaster assistance to securing temporary housing to handling insurance claims.
Legal Aid of East Tennessee (LAET) is available to provide advice and assistance, but residents should act now to ensure that they have accessible documents and photographs of themselves and everything in their home before a natural disaster arrives.
A few simple actions can help to avoid legal problems later.
Preparation for disasters is key.
First, residents should take photographs of everything, including their home, belongings, pets and important documents. This will help with insurance and FEMA claims. Then, residents should upload the photographs to a secure location, email the photographs to themselves, and place the camera in a watertight container.
Residents should review the title to their property to make sure that ownership is clear and that title is free of defects. Any issues with title should be addressed so they do not become a stumbling block to recovery in the aftermath of a disaster.
Residents should place their, and their family members’, most important records and documents in a safe place. Keep them in a large sealable plastic bag or other watertight container and keep them nearby — possibly in their vehicle, along with a to-go bag with essentials that they would need if they had to quickly evacuate. Residents should be sure to make copies of these documents and store them in a safe secondary location, such as a safe deposit box.
What documents should be gathered? Items include:
• Account numbers for credit card, checking, and savings accounts
• Adoption papers
• Bank and utility records
• Bills that will be needed to pay, like credit cards or utility bills
• Birth certificates
• Computer passwords
• Deeds and rental agreements
• Divorce and custody decrees
• Driver’s license
• Immunization records
• Insurance, proof of (e.g. homeowners, renters, flood, earthquake, auto, life, health, disability, long-term care; have at least the policy number and insurance company contact information for each type of coverage)
• Marriage license
• Medical directives
• Medical records, including copies or photographs of medical prescriptions
• Military discharge records
• Military ID
• Passports, immigration paperwork such as green cards, work authorization or naturalization papers
• Pet records (medical and vaccination records for pets along with current photos and ID chip numbers in case of separation)
• Powers of attorney including medical powers of attorney
• School records
• Social Security card
• Tax returns (First two pages of previous year's federal and state tax returns)
• Vehicle title and registration and proof of insurance
• Wills and estate planning documents
Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s mission is to strengthen communities and change lives through high-quality legal services. Eligible residents of 26 East Tennessee counties receive service from offices located in Chattanooga, Cleveland, Knoxville, Maryville, Morristown, Johnson City and Blountville.
For more information, visit Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s website at www.laet.org.
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