Disaster and Emergency Help

Six Legal Tips After A Disaster

  • 3 Minute Read
  • Shares

In the days and weeks following a disaster like a hurricane or wildfire, you may encounter legal and financial matters as you begin to recover and rebuild from its aftermath. Here are six quick tips to help you handle different situations, along with resources to keep in mind as you get things back in order.

1. First off, know your rights.

After a disaster, you may have issues with your home and property ranging from determining who is responsible for cleaning up to knowing when to keep making rent or mortgage payments. Because state laws and individual insurance policies vary, check with your homeowners or renters insurance company or local authorities to know what applies in your situation. And download ARAG’s guidebook Legal Issues Surrounding a Natural Disaster to understand your legal rights as you recover.

2. Know who to contact.

Unfortunately, disasters can have a way of impacting all facets of our lives — personally, financially and legally. So we’ve compiled a list of websites and phone numbers to help with different situations. It’s not all-inclusive, but hopefully gives you a place to start.

FEMA
https://www.fema.gov/
1-800-621-3362

Disaster assistance
https://www.disasterassistance.gov/
1-800-621-3362

Replacing vital documents
https://www.usa.gov/replace-vital-documents
1-844-872-4681

Getting back on your feet financially
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0379-dealing-weather-emergency-getting-back-your-feet-financially

3. Watch for consumer scams.

Many times after a disaster, it’s possible that price gouging, refinancing schemes or home repair scams will pop up. To help guard against these incidents, make sure you:

Don’t pay any money without reviewing and signing a contract.

Ask for references, proof of insurance and licensing as required by your city and/or state.

Resist any pressure to make quick or uninformed financial decisions.

4. Protect against identity theft.

If your home was severely damaged, your belongings misplaced or you were required to leave your residence, you may be at risk for identity theft. You may want to consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report so creditors will follow specific procedures before opening new accounts in your name or making changes to existing accounts. To activate a fraud alert, call one of the three main nationwide reporting companies at the numbers listed below.

  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

A fraud alert is a federal right for victims of identity theft, and there’s no cost to you to activate one. It allows creditors to get your report information as long as they take steps to verify your identity.

To place an initial fraud alert, contact one of three credit bureaus and let them know you believe you’re a victim of identity theft. Confirm that the bureau you speak to will share the alert with the other two (it’s the law that they do) and know that the initial alert will be active for 90 days.

For additional steps to handle identity theft, see our Identity Theft Action Kit.

5. Avoid a contractor dispute.

If your home or property was damaged, chances are you’ll be working with one or several contractors. To help make sure things go smoothly:

Make sure a contract is in place before work begins — and have it reviewed by an attorney beforehand.

Ensure the contract itemizes all costs for labor as well as supplies, along with a defined timeline for completion.

Choose a reputable contractor who can furnish references, licensing and proof of insurance

For additional tips, check out the Working with a Contractor guidebook from ARAG.

6. Manage an insurance dispute.

You will probably be working with a combination of insurance companies (home, auto, medical, etc.) to get your life back in order. Filing claims and getting reimbursed for lost or damaged items can be a lengthy and frustrating process. To help you work through it:

If possible, review your policies so you are familiar with the terms, deductibles and provisions.

Make sure you track the times and dates of all phone calls, who you talked to and the subject.

Save all emails and documents you receive.

Respond quickly to all written and electronic correspondence.

Do your best to remain patient and informative.

We’re here to help.

If you’re an ARAG legal plan member and you’ve got legal questions, please call ARAG Customer Care at 1-800-247-4184 to see how your legal plan can help. You can also log in to ARAGLegalCenter.com to review plan coverages and access legal tools and resources.