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Life After the Storm

Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas and came for parts of Louisiana in late August. More than 51 inches of rain inundated Houston, according the National Weather Service. USA Today reports that more than 30,000 people have piled in to Houston shelters.

Now that the storm waters are starting to recede, the full scope of the damage is starting to come into focus. According to AccuWeather, the total damage is expected to reach $190 billion, almost four times the amount of damage caused by 2005’s catastrophic Hurricane Katrina. Insured losses, according to CNBC, are expected to reach $20 billion.

There is a long road to recovery ahead. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you begin to assess and address the damage to your businesses and to your clients:

Take care of you first. With 475 members in the FPA of Houston chapter, no doubt you are suffering yourselves. Carolyn McClanahan wrote in Financial Planning that you must help yourselves before you help others. But when you do have some semblance of starting to recover and you’re ready to reach out to your clients.

Let your family, friends, and clients know you’re OK. You can Tweet, post on your firm’s Facebook or Twitter page.

Jonathan Swanburg, CFP®, an adviser affected by Harvey, wrote in Financial Planning how when he reached out to his clients, they only wanted to ensure that he was safe.

“When I sent out an email on Friday morning praying for our client’s families and explaining our firm’s contingency plans for flooding and loss of power, none responded on the business issues at hand,” Swanburg wrote. “Instead, they all expressed concern for my team and our families.”

Make sure they’re OK. Call them when you get a chance. Many of them might not answer but try until they do. Ensure they are physically and mentally alright before tackling the concrete financial issues. The emotional toll of this catastrophe will be just as high as the financial toll.

Many might need extensive repairs not covered by their insurance. According to the Washington Post, majority of the homeowners in areas hit hardest by Harvey don’t have flood insurance. Citing data form the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Washington Post reports that only 17 percent of homeowners in the Texas counties hardest hit have flood insurance.

“Unfortunately, most families in Houston do not have flood insurance and are going to be struggling for a very long time,” Swanburg wrote.

If your clients are among those without flood insurance, look into federal disaster relief aid (go to DisasterAssistance.gov), U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans, or home equity loans. Be advised that homes must first be repaired before a home equity line is approved.

Help with the insurance processes. CNBC reports that insured losses from this storm could reach up to $20 billion. And it will likely be some time before adjusters can get in and assess the damage. Advise clients to make only repairs that prevent further damage until adjusters can come. Have them take pictures of everything. Save all receipts for materials, housing, meals, and storage. Encourage them to file claims as quickly as possible. Keeping receipts will also help with claiming a casualty loss on their tax returns.

Utilize your contacts to expedite getting your clients the help they need. McClanahan said that insurance agents are overwhelmed during disasters. Adjusters work on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you have connections in the insurance industry, utilize them to better serve your clients.

“While Harvey was a catastrophe for millions of people,” Swanburg wrote, “it was also a reminder that at its best, financial planning is a uniquely personal business built around wonderful people and lifelong relationships.”

If you are an FPA member set to renew this month and were affected by Harvey, FPA will extend your membership while you’re recovering. If members affected by Harvey have registered for FPA Annual Conference, refunds will be issued if you are unable to make it. Contact Member Services for more information, 1-800-322-4237 or email MemberServices@OneFPA.org.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.