Hurricane Harvey Insurance Claim Tips

WHAT TO DO FIRST

  • Take pictures, pictures and more pictures. With a video camera you can narrate where you acquired the items in case you can’t produce receipts. Remember that although they may have special memories important to you, it’s a material item and you may have to find a way to disassociate yourself emotionally from those memories for the purpose of your insurance flood claim.
  • With digital photography, you can take as many pictures as possible and choose the best ones to use. Today’s memory devices have virtually unlimited storage so don’t be shy about taking pictures.
  • Have a video camera trained on the entrance so that every item that is removed from the property is documented.
  • Use a still camera picture to help document each item claimed. When you prepare your claim you can attach a JPG image  file to support each item claimed.
  • Many items are heirlooms with sentimental value but the standard the insurance companies are looking for is replacement cost.
  • Go online to find and document the value. Printout the published price. The more documentation you have the stronger your claim.

HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIMS

If your flood damage is caused by water already on the premises such as from a plumbing problem, it is a homeowners insurance claim rather than a flood insurance claim. Flood insurance applies to surface water such as rain storms, tidal surges, and hurricanes.

WINDSTORM CLAIMS

In Texas, wind storm damages are covered by TWIA (Texas Windstorm Insurance Association). In a Hurricane, there are frequently two parts to the claims process: 1) the flood insurance (which is a Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) activity, and; 2) damage caused by windstorms such as broken windows, torn-off roofs.

Fallen trees, on the other hand, are typically caused by storm damage and are usually covered by homeowner’s policies.

AUTOMOBILE FLOOD CLAIMS

In general, automobile flood damage claims are covered by automobile policies. The Comprehensive part of your auto policy usually covers the flood claim, but always ask your agent.

Automobile flood claims are filed with your auto policy even if they were in your garage when they were flooded.

 

International Probate Matters

No matter where you live, when you pass, your property needs to transfer to the heirs that you intended. If there is no other legal mechanism in place, such as a Living Trust, the transfer will typically be handled in probate court. But then the question is, where is probate opened to establish the authority to effect such transfers?

In a recent case, a decedent who was a former resident of Galveston County, Texas, had remarried and was living as an expatriate in a foreign country with a spouse who is a citizen of that county. The spouse had an interesting question to resolve: where is the probate jurisdiction?

To allow probate to be opened in Texas, it is important to establish as many ties to the Texas community as possible, hopefully including some form of real property. There is provision of the Texas Estates Code that affords the local probate court the authority to open an estate in this kind of situation.

Something to consider is that a Living Trust eliminates probate, and in a case such as this international one, the transfer of property becomes a non-issue.

HOA’s and the SRL Project

The SRL program is very thorough about taking care of all of the approvals necessary for a turnkey project. There is one exception that can fall through the cracks and that is dealing with the local homeowners association.

Homeowners associations in Texas are not an official governmental entity and they lack authority of building codes that legitimate governments enjoy. That is not to say that they can’t or won’t make trouble in their attempts to enforce their deed restrictions nor does it mean that they do not serve a useful purpose. Granted there are bona fide interests in keeping the community well kept, and maintaining the standards established for that particular neighborhood.  The homeowners association or HOA’s get their power from the deed restrictions that are recorded in the deed records of the respective county courthouse. When a buyer purchases a home within such a community, they are usually buying into the HOA as long as the deed restrictions for that community have not expired. These deed restrictions are usually renewed prior to expiration and if not, they lapse. Deed restrictions are especially useful in communities where there are no zoning laws. A very good example of this scenario is the Heights neighborhood found in Houston. When parts of that neighborhood allowed the deed restrictions to lapse, neighborhoods found commercial operations opening up next door to residences and that adversely affected the property values.

The SRL program qualified contractors take care of the permits required for the elevation or other flood mitigation work for the homes but usually do not have to deal with HOA’s. After all, these are government projects funded by FEMA through the Texas State Water Development Board, the County Office of Emergency Management, down to the local municipality.  In some instances, these projects are outside of a municipality and subject only to the County building codes. This sets the stage for the local home owners association to exercise the power that so often finds HOA directors salivating.  In the hands of an overzealous HOA director, the Architecture Control Committee Chairman tries to assert authority where they are wanting. There are many reasons for this including envy that their home did not qualify for the program and the ever present opportunity to endear themselves to their friends, and cut the legs out from under those outside of their circles.

HOAs do have a legitimate purpose but in the hands of an opportunist, the power can be abused. If you fight your HOA to some extent you are fighting yourself. A lawsuit against your HOA that results in expensive litigation and a significant judgment will be paid out of the dues or special assessment that comes in part from your own pocket. If you choose not to pay you HOA dues, they can and will sue and foreclose your property.