FEMA and other federally-funded programs are barred by law from providing money or assistance to people who have already been helped, unless the assistance they have received so far is not enough. For example, if your HVAC system is damaged in a flood and will cost $6000 to replace and your insurance company provides you with $6000 for the work, FEMA cannot give you any additional money for your HVAC. However, if your insurance company pays you $3000, then you may get additional assistance from FEMA.
If any organization—insurance company, FEMA, local government, nonprofit, etc.—gives you money to help you with disaster recovery, you should use the money as stated by that organization and keep receipts to prove how you spent that money. You may need to prove that you spent it appropriately, either to the organization that originally provided the funds, or to other organizations if you need more assistance afterwards.
If any owner of a property receives FEMA assistance for a home that is located in a floodplain, FEMA will inform the homeowner that in the future, all owners of the home are required to keep flood insurance on the home. This requirement lasts as long as the home is still in a floodplain, and it applies to future owners as well. If the owner does not keep flood insurance on the home, and the home is damaged in another disaster, FEMA will deny assistance. This is true even if the current owner does not know about the flood insurance requirement.
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.
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.
Download a resource:
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.
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.
|Disaster Relief||Resolving heir property||Legal Aid of North Carolina|
|Disaster Relief||Wills and estate planning for disaster recovery||Legal Aid of North Carolina|