WHEN A NATURAL disaster strikes, character can be tested.
Such is the case facing members of a family who became homeless after Superstorm Sandy ravaged parts of the East Coast in the fall. During a recent online discussion, I received a question from a reader asking what to do to help relatives who lost their house in New York.
But, the reader noted, the family also had "squandered" a $300,000 inheritance, purchasing luxury items such as "two expensive cars, a high-end computer and tech equipment, which were all also lost in the storm. This is a pattern that has been repeated a few times with this particular couple."
Unfortunately, there wasn't enough insurance to cover the couple's losses (they didn't have flood insurance) and government support has been minimal, the family member wrote. For most homes, apartments and businesses, the only insurance protection against damage from rising water is flood insurance underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program. Standard homeowner's-insurance and renter's-insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
"What do I and the other concerned siblings do in such an event?" the reader asked. "We could all provide some form of help, though none of us is wealthy by any means. I find myself debating not funding my child's college education for a year to help them out. But I become so angry at the thought of all the money they wasted."
Superstorm Sandy damaged many areas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. Insured losses from the storm are estimated to range from $10 billion to $20 billion, according to Eqecat Inc., a risk-modeling firm. Eqecat estimates that the total cost of the storm, including damage not covered by insurance, could reach $50 billion.
Even the most financially savvy families can find themselves struggling after a natural disaster. Despite having the most comprehensive insurance policies, you can have out-of-pocket expenses that can significantly drain your savings. If you are unprepared for something like Superstorm Sandy, the financial aftermath can be devastating.
I understand the frustration coming from the siblings who want to help but fear they will be rewarding bad behavior. It's especially hard to be magnanimous when you've been saving and pinching pennies while the family now in need has been living large. You planned, but they partied.
I often get emails from readers frustrated at the bailout of people they feel have been irresponsible. They complain that they've done everything right and now the reckless are being rewarded.
But isn't that what life is? Not fair. You do the right thing and then are faced with a test like this. You are in a position to help. So do you? Do you give to those who didn't save or act fiscally responsible? Do you help the seemingly unworthy?
Yes, you do. You help if you can afford to provide assistance. For one thing, you help because perhaps there was a time - or will be a time - when you received help but didn't deserve it.
Before you burst a vein, I'm not saying you shouldn't be responsible or discerning with your financial aid. But we can't have a test for who deserves help and who doesn't. It's inevitable that when you give, you will be giving to someone who should have done better. Still, you give from the heart simply because of the need.