Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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Estate planning and disaster recovery

Advanced planning can help you avoid many common legal issues following a natural disaster. To avoid a situation where people inheriting your property have difficulty proving their ownership, it is a good idea to prepare a will stating who you want to inherit your property. After a relative who owns property has died, it is important for a family member to have the estate administered through the courts to ensure that all legal requirements are met. Additionally, preparing powers of attorney before you need them can ensure that someone you trust is available to handle financial matters or make medical decisions for you when you need it.

Essential documents such as wills and powers of attorney may be lost or damaged after a natural disaster. You should verify that your documents are intact, and if not, contact Legal Aid NC or another attorney to help you create new versions of your documents.

Legal Aid of North Carolina can assist in preparing several types of documents:

  • Last Will and Testament: In your will, you decide who will inherit your property after you die, including land, cars, bank accounts, jewelry and other items. If you do not have a will, then the law decides which of your closest relatives will inherit your property, without regard to your specific family situation.
  • Power of Attorney: A power of attorney allows another person to handle financial and business matters for you, including accessing bank accounts, paying bills, buying or selling property, hiring attorneys or accountants, etc. You can choose to allow someone else to begin handling these matters immediately, or only if you are medically unable to do so yourself. After signing a power of attorney, you still have the authority to handle your own business as well as allow the other person to handle it for you.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney: A health care power of attorney tells your doctors who you want to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. This document can also put limits on the types of decisions the person is able to make for you.
  • Living Will: A living will states your end of life wishes about what should happen if you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself, for instance, if you are in a coma or suffering from dementia.

There are legal requirements these documents need to meet in order to be valid. An attorney can help you prepare these documents to ensure that your wishes are known and respected.

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Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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The term “heir property” is used to describe land or homes that people have inherited from others, often from a family member who passed away without leaving a will. Heir property typically involves many people who have inherited shares in the property from the original deceased owner.

People can leave their property in a will to anyone they choose. However, if a person dies without a will, then the law decides who inherits their property. These rules are the same for everyone and may not leave the property to the person you expect. If you have a relative who owned land and died without a will, you should contact an attorney to make sure you understand how the law applied to your relative and who owns the property now.

Generally, it is not ideal for a large number of people to own property together. This makes it more difficult to sell or mortgage the property or apply for property tax relief, and it creates a risk that one heir may sell their share to someone outside the family, who in turn forces a sale. If a natural disaster damages the property, having many owners can also make it more difficult to get assistance for repairs.

There are two ways to eliminate heir property:

  • All heirs may agree to give ownership to one person. One heir may buy the others’ shares, or the others may voluntarily give their share to a single family member. In some cases, the heirs may agree to form a corporation or other entity to hold and manage the property.
  • Any owner of the property may file for partition. This is a court case in which the owner asks a judge to divide up the property. Typically, this results in the judge ordering the property sold at auction. Anyone, including investors from outside the family, may buy the property at a sale. The property will be sold to the highest bidder. The proceeds will be divided among the owners according to their ownership share.

Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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Many organizations that provide free home repair assistance after a disaster will require you to prove that you own your home before they can assist you. However, you are not required by law to prove that you own your home in order to authorize repairs. For instance, you can hire a contractor yourself without proving ownership to your contractor. Organizations providing assistance may set their own requirements, which often include proof of ownership.

In some cases, proving ownership of your home is straightforward. For instance, you may be able to provide:

  • A deed to the home with your name on it
  • A title, if your home is a mobile home, with your name on it
  • Proof that you have a mortgage on the home
  • A will from the last person holding a deed to the home, showing that that person left the property to you, accompanied by proof that the will has been administered through the courts
  • Some people have inherited property without a will, and/or the property is shared by many relatives. Lawyers often call this “heir property.” You may also know this as “family land.”

People who inherited their property without a will are legal owners of the property. However, proving your ownership may be challenging. You may need to prepare a family tree and verify whether other heirs who have died since inheriting the property had wills themselves. If you are in this situation, you should contact Legal Aid NC, or another attorney, to assist you in proving ownership of your property. Some organizations may only provide assistance if all owners of the property, including all heirs, agree to the repairs. An attorney can help you identify all owners of your property. Depending on your circumstances, a family tree can be more complex than the example provided below so it is a good idea to get assistance.

Property Ownership Example

Michael Donna John Ryan Nicole Betsy Ben Sara Alex Erica (Living Deceased)

In this example, Michael and Donna’s son(Ryan) and grandchildren (Alex, Sara and Erica) would all own the property together.

Additional resources

Category Name Organization
Disaster Relief Resolving heir property Legal Aid of North Carolina
Disaster Relief Wills and estate planning for disaster recovery Legal Aid of North Carolina

Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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FEMA Applications

If you have been affected by a federally declared disaster, you may qualify for disaster assistance through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. You should apply to FEMA as soon after the disaster as possible, and generally, you must apply within 60 days of the disaster.

FEMA can provide money for home repairs; temporary rental assistance; medical, dental and funeral expenses; vehicle repair or replacement; repair or replacement of essential household items; and other essential expenses related to the disaster.

To apply for FEMA assistance, you can:

  • Go to
  • Call 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585
  • Apply in person at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center

FEMA will send you a letter either approving or denying your request. If you are approved, FEMA will send you a letter explaining the purpose of the money. It is important that you only use FEMA money for its intended purpose. For instance, if FEMA’s letter explains that funding is intended for home repair, you should not spend it on rent or food. FEMA may provide you with money for more than one purpose at the same time.

You should save receipts showing how you spent the money for at least three years after you receive it. FEMA may ask you for proof that the money was spent as intended. If you receive money for home repair, but it is not enough to complete all repairs on your home, you should keep your receipts until all repairs are completed so that you can show proof of how you spent the FEMA money to any other organizations assisting you.

If you are unable to use the funding for the intended purpose, you should return it to FEMA. If you spend the money for another purpose, you may be required to repay FEMA in the future.

If FEMA approves you for rental assistance, you will receive two months’ rent upfront, which you may also use to pay a security deposit and your first month’s rent. If you need continuing rental assistance after that, you will need to turn in additional documentation to FEMA, including a copy of your lease and information about your income and expenses.

FEMA Home Repair Assistance

If your home was damaged by a major disaster, you may be eligible for repair assistance from FEMA. FEMA repair assistance is only intended to help you with basic repairs to make it safe to return to your home. FEMA is not intended to assist with all repairs or result in your home returning to its pre-disaster condition.

FEMA also expects that you will soon return to your home and take steps to prevent further damage. For instance, if you have a hole in your roof, FEMA expects that you will place a tarp over it to prevent interior damage to your home.

You may be eligible for home repair assistance if:

  • You or a household member is a U.S. citizen, non‐citizen national, or qualified alien
  • Your home is in a declared disaster area
  • You own your home
  • Your home is uninhabitable or inaccessible due to the disaster
  • Your home is not covered by insurance, or your insurance does not cover your damage
  • You were occupying your home as your primary residence at the time of the disaster

You may NOT be eligible if:

  • You have other, adequate, rent-free housing available
  • You refused assistance from your insurance
  • You were required to maintain flood insurance after a previous disaster, but did not do so

Common issues that can cause FEMA to deny a homeowner’s claim include proving ownership and proving that the disaster has caused so much damage to the home that it is not currently habitable.

If FEMA denies your application for assistance or does not grant you enough money for your needs, you have 60 days to appeal. You can appeal on your own, or Legal Aid NC or another attorney can help you with your appeal.

Additional Resources

Category Name Organization
Disaster Relief FEMA Home Repair Assistance Legal Aid of North Carolina
Disaster Relief FEMA and Flood Insurance Legal Aid of North Carolina
Disaster Relief Duplication of benefits Legal Aid of North Carolina

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Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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If your rental home is destroyed or so badly damaged by a natural disaster that it is not sanitary or safe for you to live in, North Carolina law gives you the right to cancel your lease within 10 days of the date of the damage. You must give the owner or manager written notice of your intent to cancel the lease. You will be required to pay any rent currently due.

Your landlord may also end your lease if the damage is too severe for the landlord to repair. If this happens, your landlord must give you notice as required by your lease. If your lease does not state how much notice is required to end the lease, the amount of time is set by law. For example, on a month-to-month lease, the landlord must provide at least one week’s notice before the end of your lease.

If you continue to live in the home, the landlord is required to make repairs to make the home safe, decent and sanitary. The landlord must do this within a reasonable time. However, the repairs are only legally required if the landlord is aware of the damage. Make sure you inform the landlord about needed repairs right away, and that you keep a record of the date and your conversation. It is best to make your repair requests in writing, which may include handwritten, email, text message, or social media message.

If you have to move out while repairs are being made, you are not required to pay rent for the time that you are not living in the home. You will typically be responsible for your living expenses, including rent elsewhere, while repairs are being made. FEMA may be able to assist you with rental costs while you are displaced.

Your landlord can evict you for failing to pay rent that is due, even if you have been affected by a disaster. If you are unable to stay in the home or unable to pay your rent, you should stay in contact with your landlord to explain your situation and try to reach an agreement.

In general, your landlord is not responsible for damage to your belongings caused by the natural disaster. If you have renter’s insurance for your property, you should file a claim. You should also take pictures of all damaged property.

If you want to move due to damage to your home, or if your landlord continues to charge you rent without completing repairs, we recommend that you contact an attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. You can call the Legal Aid NC helpline to learn if you can get free assistance.

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Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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Scammers and fraudsters often target people after natural disasters. Real contractors or handymen may also accept your money and then fail to do the work. These tips can help you avoid losing money after a disaster.

It is best to…

  • Ask for an official ID from anyone claiming to be from the government, power company or insurance company.
  • Contact your insurance company first if your property has been damaged by a disaster. Some insurance companies require the adjuster’s approval before work can be done.
  • Shop around and compare estimates for any major repairs. Legitimate contractors will also provide written estimates for home repairs.
  • Avoid sharing personal information, such as social security numbers or bank account numbers, with anyone who contacts you first. If someone contacts you claiming to be from a government agency or organization, look up the number for that organization online and call to verify that the person is really an employee.
  • Remember that you should not be asked to pay to file any disaster assistance applications.

When hiring a contractor…

  • Beware of contractors who knock on your door offering services because they noticed your home is damaged or are already working in your area. This is a common tactic of scam artists.
  • FEMA does not approve, endorse, certify, or recommend any contractors, individuals, or firms.
  • Do not hire a contractor who does not have a physical address or refuses to show ID.
  • Use a contractor who is backed by reliable references. The most reputable contractors have liability insurance, workers’ compensation and are bonded.
  • Perform a quick Google search before hiring any contractor. Do they have a website? Have they scammed previous clients? Read any reviews.
  • Get a copy of your contract in writing from the contractor that includes the work to be done and, ideally, a completion date.
  • Check credentials with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. Any contractor taking jobs costing $30,000 is required to be licensed in North Carolina.
  • You may wish to request a copy of your contractor’s Certificate of Insurance before they begin work, to ensure that the contractor is legitimate and that you will be covered if the contractor causes any damage to your home.

When making a payment…

  • Be cautious about paying contractors before they begin work. If possible, wait until the work is finished and you are satisfied before paying. Reputable contractors generally do not expect customers to pay the entire price upfront.
  • Pay contractors by credit card if you can, so that you can request a chargeback from your credit card company if they fail to do the work or if the work is unsatisfactory.
  • If you cannot pay by credit card, pay by check or get a written receipt from the contractor – anything to keep a paper trail proving your payments.

If you have been affected by a scam or fraud, you should contact the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office at 1-877-566-7226. Under many circumstances, scams and frauds are a crime. You may wish to contact local law enforcement. You can also contact an attorney to assist you. Call Legal Aid NC to learn if you qualify for free help.

Watch this video for additional information:

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Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Disaster Relief Project helps promote the longevity and professionalism of local long-term recovery work. Legal Aid attorneys assist groups with 501(c)(3) non-profit incorporation, draft of legal documents, and provide general guidance as the groups seek to navigate the disaster relief ecosystem. Our goal is to allow the groups to focus on what they do best: helping the community recover. 

If you are a long-term recovery or community group and would like to learn if we can assist you, call the Legal Aid helpline at 866-219-5262. 

Additional resources

Category Name Organization
Disaster Relief How to Start a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization
in North Carolina
NC Center for Nonprofits
Disaster Relief Legal Compliance Checklist for North Carolina Nonprofits NC Center for Nonprofits
Disaster Relief Toolkit for Building Organizational Resilience NC Center for Nonprofits


Organization: Legal Aid of North Carolina

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Tenant education is our first line of defense against the damaging effects of eviction in our communities. We partnered with the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council and the Foundation for the Carolinas to create the Tenants Toolkit, a guide comprised of information, actionable tasks and policy guides, broken down by topic. Because when properly equipped with the Tenants Toolkit, we believe we can have better shared outcomes in our communities.


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Tenant Rights 1

While it may seem like the landlord/tenant relationship favors the property owner, there are protections in place that level the playing field. In part one of this chapter of The Tenants Toolkit we’ll learn just what safeguards are in place to protect tenants against unfair housing situations. 14 min

Tenant Rights 2

While it may seem like the landlord/tenant relationship favors the property owner, there are protections in place that level the playing field. In part two of this chapter of The Tenants Toolkit we continue to learn just what safeguards are in place to protect tenants against unfair housing situations. 11 min

The Eviction Process

What should you do if you find yourself with an eviction notice? In this episode of The Tenants Toolkit, we learn just what it means to receive a notice, how long you have to act, and what you can do between the notice and your court date to protect yourself and your family. 18 min

Rental Contracts

Do you know what’s in your lease? When it expires? What parts of your rental agreement may be illegal and just when your landlord can begin the eviction process? In this episode of The Tenants Toolkit, we find out what might be hidden in your lease, and how to use that information to defend yourself against an eviction. 10 min

Housing Subsidies

Low income families have help but knowing where to look and having some patience is a large part of the game. In this episode of The Tenants Toolkit, we learn about housing subsidies and the types of housing it can cover. 16 min

Financial Literacy

In this episode of The Tenants Toolkit, a financial expert walks us through the process of establishing a budget, sticking to it, making sound financial decisions, and making sure that you are paying your rent on time. 24 min

Evicted in Charlotte

Renters in Charlotte get evicted at a rate twice the national average. In this episode of The Tenants Toolkit, we explore the affordable housing situation in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, and discover just who is affected most in this crisis. 13 min