As East Coast residents continue to put their lives back together after Hurricane Sandy, asset protection lawyer Hillel L. Presser reminds Americans that we’re all vulnerable. “We’ve seen some bizarre, destructive weather in recent years—nearly 1,700 tornadoes in 2011, extreme drought this year, and Hurricane Sandy followed up with a Nor’easter, just to name a few,” says Presser, author of Financial Self-Defense.

“And we can expect more of the same. AccuWeather is forecasting major snowstorms from North Carolina to New York City in January and February; severe storms

“We’ve seen some bizarre, destructive weather in recent years—nearly 1,700 tornadoes in 2011, extreme drought this year, and Hurricane Sandy followed up with a Nor’easter, just to name a few."

across the South, with the possibility of tornadoes and flash flooding; and a growing drought in the Northwest that carries the potential for more wildfires.”

He says people should take steps now, before a crisis, to make sure they’re protected. Important questions to keep in mind include: If your tree falls on your neighbor’s house in a storm, will you be prepared for a lawsuit? Is your important paperwork in a safe place where you’ll be able to access it if your home floods, like so many people in New York and New Jersey?

Presser offers the following tips for safeguarding your assets now.

1. Protect your assets from lawsuits. One way to do this is by protectively titling non-exempt assets. Exempt assets vary by state and may include such things as your primary residence and personal furniture; make sure to check your specific state exemptions—those items generally should not need any extra protection. However, non-exempt assets, such as bank accounts, recreational vehicles and the like, should be titled in the names of corporations, limited partnerships, domestic trusts, and other entities.

2. Have adequate (or better) insurance. Your assets include—but are not limited to—your car, home and other valuables. You never know what you could lose in a natural disaster.

3. Diversify your assets geographically. This is extremely important in the case of natural disasters. Use international asset protection to help disperse your valuables into some non-U.S.-based jurisdictions.

4. Safeguard your paperwork. Collect and copy all paperwork and have it accessible in the event you must evacuate. Give the second copy to a trusted financial advisor, attorney or trustee for safekeeping. Take a video of every room and keep an itemized asset list with your paperwork. That way, you’ll have the documentation to present to your insurance company when filing a claim. Photos and videos, as well as receipts and documents showing the value of those assets, will help.

5. Safeguard your business. Create a plan of action to implement in the event of a natural disaster, and practice implementing it. Hurricane Sandy illustrated the problems business owners faced in trying to resume operations during widespread power outages and equipment destroyed by floodwaters. Do you have a generator? Can you use cloud computing? Keep a record of all payrolls and business documents remotely so that if you don’t have access to your business dwelling, you can still access copies of all important business documentation.

6. Make sure your estate plan is up to date. Everyone should have an updated estate plan, including minor children. Choose one trustworthy person to be the executor of your estate. This person should have a hard copy of your financial account information and list of your assets, including intellectual property and passwords that can be accessed in the event of a natural disaster.

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