Did Harvey Soak Your Important Papers?

By Deborah H. Currin
Attorney at Law

Hurricane Harvey destroyed homes and personal property for many of our local residents. If you were flooded, your primary concern is probably replacing homes and vehicles. But don’t forget those important papers we are all told to “keep in a safe place”. Even if your home escaped the flood, your bank safe deposit box might have taken on water. Jewelry, coins and cash will survive the flood waters, but the paper documents might be permanently destroyed. Do your best to salvage those important papers. Try to carefully separate the pages and dry them. They may be smelly, wrinkled and the ink may have bled to adjacent pages, but in many cases they will still be readable and they might not be replaceable.

Here are some tips for replacing those important papers or safe deposit box contents:

Deeds to Real Property: It is not important to possess the original deed as long as the deed was properly recorded in the deed records of the county where the real property is located. If you bought your home through a title company, it should have been recorded immediately after the Closing. You can obtain a copy of the recorded deed from the county clerk at a nominal cost, usually $1.00 per page for an uncertified copy. If you had an original unrecorded deed, it is very important to locate the grantor of the property and get a new deed properly executed as soon as possible. If that’s not possible, you should talk to a real estate attorney.

Vehicle Titles: Duplicate titles to vehicles can be obtained from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

Savings Bonds: Replacement bonds will be issued electronically (instead of in paper form) upon proof of loss. You will need to complete Form FS1048 and submit it to the Dept. of Treasury. You will need as much information and you have to adequately describe the bonds. If you have wet pieces of them, send those in with the form, especially if they show the serial numbers.

Insurance Policies: Contact the insurance company for a replacement policy and or declaration sheet. Be sure you have beneficiary designations up to date.

Stock Certificates: If you hold the actual certificates, contact the Transfer Agent for the Company that issued the shares. They will provide you with the proper forms to replace lost or destroyed certificates. If the original certificates were held by a brokerage company you won’t need to do anything.

Estate Planning documents (Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, etc.): If the original documents cannot be salvaged, contact the attorney that drafted the documents for you. That attorney may be able to reprint the documents for you to re-sign at a very nominal cost. If you had signed copies of these documents stored electronically, print paper copies. Most medical facilities will accept copies of Medical Powers of Attorney, HIPAA releases and Directives to Physicians. Copies of trusts are frequently accepted. It is possible to probate a copy of a Will as long as you serve notice to all parties and prove to the court the original Will was not intentionally destroyed. In most cases, a Durable Power of Attorney for financial or legal purposes must be an original document, so a signed copy typically would not be acceptable. If the original document is legible, save it. We have successfully probated Wills charred in house fires. If the documents cannot be salvaged contact your attorney to replace them. If you haven’t reviewed your estate planning documents and powers of attorney in several years, now would be a good time to do that.

It is always a good idea to keep electronic copies of your important documents on your computer and keep a backup copy stored away from the home. Include serial numbers for all savings bonds, certificate numbers for all stock certificates and policy numbers for all insurance contracts.

© 2017 Deborah H. Currin

Deborah H. Currin is a 1986 graduate of South Texas College of Law. She has been practicing law over 31 years and concentrates her practice in the area of Wills and trusts, probate and real estate law. Ms. Currin is a Member of the firm Currin, Wuest, Mielke, Paul & Knapp, PLLC (“CWMPK”) located at 800 Rockmead Drive, Kingwood, Texas. In addition to the areas in which Ms. Currin practices, other attorneys at CWMPK concentrate their practice in areas of commercial litigation, estate planning, probate, family law (including divorce and custody issues), business operations and formation, bankruptcy, immigration, employment law, construction and real estate. For more information, please call 281.359.0100 or see the CWMPK website at www.cwmpk.com.