I’ve mentioned often in this bankruptcy blog that the three main factors leading to bankruptcy are extended medical illness, divorce, and job loss. The combination of two or more of these things hitting a family at the same time can destroy even carefully laid financial plans. In recent weeks, with actual flooding caused by thunderstorms and tornados in many parts of Indiana, many Hoosiers’ already shaky finances have been totally devastated. Although, as a bankruptcy lawyer in Indiana, I have been helping clients for more than two decades, I can hardly remember a time more difficult than the one we’re experiencing right now.

Churches and synagogues are donating food, clothing, and household supplies. Corporations are contributing money. President Bush has approved many counties for eligibility for federal assistance, and more approvals are expected. What this means is that homeowners and business owners, and even renters can apply for grants to pay for temporary housing and for repairs.

Since my Indiana bankruptcy law practice includes 68 counties, I was encouraged by the speed with which this federal assistance has become available. At the same time, I know that many individuals and owners of small businesses were already experiencing a severe financial squeeze because of the three factors of medical costs, divorce, and job shakeups. The additional burdens created by the storms and flooding might prove, at least for some, just too much to withstand.

Folks who planned to make use of a short sale of their home or to negotiate a “deed in lieu of foreclosure” strategy (see my earlier blog, Going, Going, Gone On Home Foreclosures) will not be able to offer their property for sale or to satisfy the lender until the repairs on the property are completed. In short, many of the ways in which I help clients “buy time” to make decisions about foreclosure, personal bankruptcy, or business bankruptcy will not be feasible when property has sustained extensive damage or worse, been completely destroyed.

It is very, very sad for me to see people and businesses being so hard hit. But I know that my sympathy is not the most important thing my clients need from me now. In a way, my situation is very much like that of a doctor who feels enormous empathy for his or her patients. But the doctor must focus, not on his or her own feelings, but on administering first aid, and then on working to facilitate the healing process. I know that as a legal and financial adviser, there are many strategies I need to discuss with my clients. There are important steps they need to take and important decisions they must make in order to get their finances back on track. And, as with first aid, some of these steps need to be taken right away. Once a plan is in place, I can help my Indiana clients “work the plan” and “dry out after the flood”.