Victims of wildfires may find themselves overwhelmed at the volume of things they need to sort out before they can start rebuilding their lives. Shen Schulz, a Malibu resident who lost his home in the Woolsey fire, received this helpful list from a TRG employee who had a family member experience a loss due to wildfire. Shen is letting us share it with you.
The Short List:
1. Get a PO Box.
2. Longer term rental search. Include insurance on it so they pay directly for rental. Find a nice place that you like; don’t settle. You should be able to get a “Like Property” so insurance should cover a nice place for you to live while you work through all this. Remember, you could be living here for years, so choose wisely.
3. Buy sturdy boots, gloves and some shovels.
4. Start working on the personal property list. This is a difficult task, one that will be highly emotional. Write down the moment you remember anything and keep your list on a phone or carry a pad of paper with you at all times.
5. Save your receipts. Loss of use insurance will cover incidentals, including hairbrush, phone chargers, etc.
6. As you buy things, tell the store owner your situation. Most stores will give you some level of discount as their way of helping you.
7. Let people do things for you. Do you have a friend that you can send to the store to buy you some basic clothes or comfort foods? Let them do it. They want to help and you do not need to spend time doing these errands. The ‘fun’ of shopping is gone…it quickly becomes a chore because you don’t want a new shirt, you want the one that you always liked to wear, but now it’s gone and you are sad/mad.
The Big List:
1. Register at the shelters, with Red Cross, FEMA and any other agency there. Most of the aid coming in will use these lists as a point of contact and this will help to ensure that you don’t get left out of anything. This will be especially important with FEMA, which operates on a first come first served basis.
2. Call Homeowners/Rental insurance to trigger “Loss of Use.” This typically will allow you to be in a “Like” property for a fixed amount of time with a dollar limit attached, dependent on your policy. It should also give you some immediate access to funds for essentials, including clothes, toothbrushes and food, among other things. This will also get the ball rolling for the insurance claim on your home, personal property, etc.
3. Get a PO Box and forward all mail. Use this PO Box as the mailing address on all forms you begin to fill out.
4. Start Searching for a Long term rental. Coordinate with your insurance company so that payments can be made directly from them using your “Loss of Use” money. Plan on renting 1-2 years, but do not necessarily sign a lease for a full two years as circumstances can change.
5. Create an itemized list of belongings. This is very hard but very necessary for your claim. Organize by room and list everything that was there with a replacement cost. Replacement cost should be what it would cost to replace, not what it cost when it was on sale. Make sure you list everything, even if it is above and beyond your policy limit. This is very important because everything above and beyond the policy limit is considered a loss and can be claimed as such on your taxes. (See #9 below)
6. Call all of your utilities and either freeze, cancel service or update to PO Box.
7. Call the rest of your insurance points as needed, including your car insurance or any specialty insurance for unique items.
8. Secure permits. An unfortunate necessity, you will need permits for:
- Debris Removal. As things wind down it will be necessary to remove the debris, this requires a permit usually. A debris removal permit should be covered by your insurance.
- Erosion Control. If you are on any kind of hill or have sloped property you will need to put some sort of erosion control measures in place, again this will need some sort of permit.
- Temporary Power Pole/Trailer On-Site Permit. Getting this earlier on can prove helpful in the rebuilding process.
9. Taxes. You will be able to claim the monetary loss of the value of all your items minus what you receive from your insurance company.
10. Network with others. You will learn so much from others as you go through the rebuilding process. We all have our strengths, so share yours and accept help from others. The amount of time that you will spend on the rebuild, insurance, recovery process is staggering, so you should use any and all resources at your disposal.