The deadliest cluster of wildfires in California’s history marked the fourth natural disaster to hit the United States in six weeks.
At least 40 deaths have resulted in the Northern California wildfires, in addition to thousands of homes and hundreds of thousands of acres being destroyed. There have been nearly 200 reported deaths combined from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the total tab of destruction left by the three historical storms could topple $200 billion, according to some estimates.
It will take years for the most affected areas in California, Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico to recover. Some places and people simply won’t. It’s the nature of a natural disaster: the costs and damage are too much for some to overcome.
What if it happened to you? How would you, or could you, recover financially?
“I’ve learned you need to have a plan ahead of time,” says Andrew Anable (www.safeguardinvestment.com), a financial professional in Southern California who has personally experienced devastating fires in the area. “There are some things you need to do very quickly after the disaster happens.”
Anable offers three important tips to surviving the often daunting financial aspects of a natural disaster:
• Have your documents digitally prepared. “You’ve just gone through something very emotional – maybe you’re out of your house forever, maybe a month – but the last thing you want to have to deal with is how to pay your bills,” Anable says. He strongly suggests having an electronic backup of every document, bill and paper that is important. This includes all of your insurance policies, estate planning documents, powers of attorney, etc.
• Contact all relief sources. Quickly identify all entities that can provide you help and don’t delay in contacting them. This starts with your insurance company and reviewing your policies. Two organizations to consider quickly for financial relief, Anable says, are FEMA and the Small Business Administration.
• Go back home. It’s important to get back in your residence as quickly and safely as possible, especially after a flood given the possible water damage, “That’s really where your recovery starts,” Anable says. “You’ve got to face it, as hard as it is emotionally.” That’s because mold sets in normally 24 to 48 hours after the interior is first dampened. Before you start the cleanup, Anable says, make sure to document everything, taking hundreds of pictures if necessary for insurance purposes. Everything that’s wet needs to be removed, he says, and if your insurance doesn’t provide emergency relief in that regard, do it yourself as long as it can be done safely.
Finally, Anable adds, remember that you’re not alone.
“There’s a lot of emotion that’s going on, and when you get in your neighborhood and talk to other people going through it, you realize you’re not the only one,” Anable says. “Bonding with the people is important, and you’ll be amazed at how many people help you and vice versa. The last thing you want to be is alone.”
About Andrew Anable
Andrew Anable (www.safeguardinvestment.com) is a financial planner at Safeguard Investment Advisory Group in Santa Barbara, Calif. He has been helping families with their estate, financial and retirement needs for more than 20 years. His areas of knowledge include tax planning, long-term care planning, asset protection, legacy planning, and insurance and investment strategies. He holds professional licenses in California, Arizona, Utah, and Arkansas.