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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Monday, Jul. 2, 201804:06 AM EST

Preparing for and recovering from the storm

Pro bono attorneys help in the preparation and in the recovery.

Many of us agree with the character Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” who said, “there’s no place like home.”

It may be that as we approach the height of hurricane season, we’re thinking of those words and taking action to protect our homes and brace ourselves for possible power outages. Pro bono attorneys help in the preparation and in the recovery.

For many low-income people, “home” is the place where generations of family members have lived. The home passes seamlessly to younger people as matriarchs and patriarchs pass away.

What may be missing for the current resident of the family homestead is proof of title. This becomes a legal barrier when the resident wants to secure a loan for routine repairs or, worse, when the home is damaged in a disaster. 

Because they can’t show ownership, the resident does not qualify for a bank loan or for federal assistance post-disaster.

The Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar is working with legal services organizations across the state to provide attorneys to help remedy proof of title issues for low-income families.

Here in the 4th Circuit, the “No Place Like Home” project operates year-round.

Cases are identified in several ways.

The office of the Duval County Property Appraiser implemented a process of matching the property tax rolls with death notices.

When a deceased person is listed as the owner of a property, the staff of the property appraiser sends a notice to the address of the property notifying the occupant that he or she may qualify for homestead exemption.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Irma left some Jacksonville residents homeless last year.

The notice also includes information suggesting that the occupant contact the Community Development Unit at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid to apply for free legal assistance.

A staff attorney reviews the caller’s application and determines if the person qualifies for free services. After evaluating eligibility, the case is referred for placement.

Many attorneys have indicated they are willing to assist with probate actions for people who are possible heirs to family homestead properties.

Potential clients are identified at the monthly Estate Planning Intake night at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

At EPI night, clients apply for assistance with uncontested probate matters, simple will creation and execution of advance directives documents. Clients with proof of title issues related to family homestead property also are assisted by volunteer attorneys.

Unfortunately, many eligible people are identified during storm recovery efforts as repairs to homes become critical. It’s during recovery that time is of the essence and attorneys may be asked to expedite the probate action, if possible.  

During storm season 2017, we formed the Hurricane Recovery Pro Bono Team. Some attorneys were available to assist with probate actions, landlord issues, FEMA filings and appeals, insurance matters or contract disputes. 

Members of the Hurricane Recovery Team including No Place Like Home volunteers are: Fraz Ahmed, Tess Arington, Dan Bean, Sarah Bohentin, Imani Boykin, Mac Bracewell, Crystal Broughan, Howard Dale, Andrea DeMichael, Lisa DiFranza, Bruce Duggar, Caroline Emery, Kassandra Farnsworth, Elizabeth Ferguson, Hollyn Foster and Giselle Girones.

Judy Hargitai, TangeiaHarrell, Rachel Jankowski, Percy King, Younes Lari, Brent La Tour, Jennifer Lawson, Debbie Lee-Clark, Rusty Mead, Joe Meux, Karen Millard, Carla Miller, Jim Nolan, Paola Parra, Rose Marie Preddy, Deborah Reid, John Sampson, Blair Schemer, Penny Schmidt, Seth Shapiro, Mitch Stone and Kasey Wagner also participated.

Their willingness is deeply appreciated as they continue to accept cases and assist clients.

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