Dum dum dum – imagine in your head some suspenseful music from your favourite action movie while reading this blog article as it isn’t for the faint of heart. We live in the beautiful Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and with that beauty comes an unfortunate truth – we are prone to devastating forest fires that have the potential to destroy homes. Am I trying to talk you out of purchasing property in the Okanagan? Absolutely not – as a born and raised Kelowna girl I can attest that this is a fabulous place to live and work! While we cannot predict the future and prevent things outside of our control, we can absolutely have measures in place to better prepare a person for the tragedy of losing a home.
What can you as a proactive homeowner do to ensure you are ready?
- Know where copies of all of your important documents are kept and could be collected quickly. Documents may include your birth/marriage/death certificates, ID’s, insurance papers. The majority of these documents can be replaced if lost, but not easily or quickly. Having a certified true copy of your documents and saving these in a secure secondary location may help you replace your lost original copies a bit faster. Certified true copies are something your lawyer can help you with.
- Ensure you have adequate fire insurance coverage for your property! I can’t stress this one enough. Don’t wait until the forest is burning near you to go and try to obtain insurance (or renew it if you let it lapse). Most insurance companies will not insure your property if there is an active fire nearby within a certain distance (usually measured in straight kilometers from the active burn to your property).
- If you are storing originally signed wills, powers of attorneys, etc. get them to a safe and secure location. Lawyers who practice in the area of wills and estates are required to have fireproof safes for the keeping of wills/power of attorneys. These safes are specialty fire rated to a certain heat and burn time as per the Law Society of BC rules. Not to sound biased, but this is the safest place you can keep your original estate planning documents.
- Follow your local fire mitigation plans by clearing your property of dead trees and ground materials that fires would use as fuel. In fact, some properties have covenants registered on title that require you to implement certain fire prevention measures. You may also find list of approved materials and fire prevention plans in your communities Official Community Plan, if you fall in a wildfire protection area.
There are also important considerations should you be purchasing or selling a property during fire season:
For purchasers – talk to your realtor regarding force majeure and fire insurance terms in your contract. Purchasers should not delay in obtaining fire insurance as you never know when the next fire will happen. You can go from being able to obtain insurance one day to denied the next with little to no warning.
For sellers – have your property as ready as you can for a quick vacate. It is also wise to ensure the property has fully transferred to the purchaser before canceling your own fire insurance policy. Once a policy is canceled, the insurer has no obligation to reinstate your policy which may leave you without insurance.
While we hope losing property to fire never happens, it does. It’s a hard thing to work through but we hope that by implementing some of these tips into your lives you can recover faster or even prevent the fire from taking your property (pine needle ground cover, I’m looking at you!).
As always, this is not an exhaustive list of things that could happen or things you can do to be best prepared. Your friendly neighbourhood lawyers are here for questions/concerns and to guide you through. Please feel free to reach out to us should you wish to chat.
Author: Tracy Lerfold, Designated Paralegal to Jennette Vopicka and Danielle (Dani) Brito
This information is general in nature only and written by a Designated Paralegal under the direct supervision of a lawyer. You should consult a lawyer before acting on any of this information. This information should not be considered as legal advice. To learn more about your legal needs, please contact our office at (778) 940-3768 or any of our lawyers practicing in the area of authentication and legalization at the following:
Jennette Vopicka: firstname.lastname@example.org
Danielle (Dani) Brito: [email protected]