As the extreme weather season begins, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters threaten to bring myriad civil legal problems for St. Louis area residents, from accessing critical disaster assistance to securing temporary housing to handling insurance claims.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, which provides legal support and services for 21 counties throughout northeast Missouri and the St. Louis metropolitan area, can provide legal advice and assistance as available, but residents should act now to ensure that they have accessible documents and pictures of them and everything in their home before a natural disaster arrives. A few simple actions can help to avoid legal problems later.
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 and email them to themselves and put the camera in a watertight container.
Preparation for disasters is key.
Residents should review the title to their property to make sure that ownership is clear and unencumbered before disasters happen, and to try to remedy any title issues that might exist before they become a stumbling block to recovery in the aftermath.
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
Residents should start with the most important and most difficult items and property to replace and visit http://bit.ly/HelpfulDisasterResources.
If you need legal assistance following a natural disaster, contact Legal Services of Eastern Missouri at 314-534-4200 or 800-444-0514.
About Legal Services of Eastern Missouri: Legal Services of Eastern Missouri has provided free civil legal help for low-income families for 62 years. In 2018 nearly 30,000 people in 21 counties of eastern Missouri received services from four regional offices. For more information, please visit www.lsem.org.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri