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Article posted: 1/3/2014 12:38 AM

Grease from turkey clogs homeowners' insurance claim

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Whether you're pouring grease down a drain or filling it with other stuff, don't expect your insurer to pay the bill if your sewer system gets plugged up.

Q. We deep-fried a turkey for the first time on Thanksgiving, and poured half of the leftover oil and grease down the toilet and the other half down our garbage disposal to avoid clogging our home's sewer pipes. Unfortunately, both the toilet and disposal backed up later that night, flooding the bathroom and kitchen sink with water and nasty stuff. The repair bill was almost $2,000, but the company that provides our homeowners insurance won't reimburse us because it says that "flooding" caused by a backed-up sewer isn't covered. Is this true? If so, what can we do?

A. Alas, you're in a tough spot. Most basic homeowners policies cover water damage caused by many mishaps, such as a water heater that blows up or a pipe that bursts, but they do not cover damage from a backed-up sewer system.

If it's any consolation, the fact that you voluntarily poured that turkey grease from your Thanksgiving feast down the toilet and garbage disposal probably didn't have anything to do with your insurance claim being denied. Insurers seldom pay for sewer backups, partly because it's hard to place blame for the damage. Maybe the backup was your fault, maybe it was caused by an antiquated or faulty drainage system that's run by the city or county, or maybe it happened because the roots of a neighbor's tree has slowly crept into your own plumbing system.

No matter the cause, most insurers say, it's your problem, not theirs.

When you pour grease down your sink or toilet, even if you follow it with boiling water, it's still going to form a mass of gunk that easily can clog your home's plumbing and sewer systems. The insurer has no duty to pay you for the repairs if it backs up.

The best way to get rid of used grease or oil from a turkey or other meat is to put in a heat-resistant container (empty metal coffee or soup cans are good), let it cool and then toss it in the trash.

It's also worth noting that many insurers will add coverage for sewer backups to an existing policy for about $50 or $75 a year.

Q. I want to buy my first home, but I have a tax lien against me that was filed by the Internal Revenue Service four years ago. I have agreed to make $124-per-month payments to the IRS, but a friend says the payment program I agreed to automatically disqualifies me from getting a mortgage. Is this true?

A. No, it's not true. There's really nothing "automatic" in the mortgage-lending business, other than the computer-software programs that banks use to calculate an applicant's ability to repay the loan and the systems that are used to electronically process monthly payments if the loan is granted.

The fact that you reached a $124-per-month payment agreement with the IRS shouldn't hurt your chance of getting a mortgage, provided that you have made those payments promptly and don't have the (very rare) clause in the contract that says the federal government would be the primary owner of any property that you acquire in the future.

Banks don't like to loan money on a house if Uncle Sam has a lien that would give the government "first dibs" on the resale proceeds if the borrower defaults.

The monthly payments you make to the IRS, though, will be considered as a recurring expense -- just as your car payments or credit-card bills will be -- when the lender reviews your mortgage application. Your deal with the government won't necessarily nix the loan app, but the payment plan likely will reduce the amount of money you can borrow because it's $124 a month less that you would have to pay the mortgage.

Q. My husband and I like the idea of putting our house and stock accounts into the type of living trust you have written about so our daughter can inherit them quickly instead of going through probate court. But would we have to form two separate trusts -- one for me and one for my husband?

A. No, one should be enough. The two of you would form the trust as "co-trustees," which would allow both of you to control your home, stocks and other jointly owned property while both of you are alive.

When one dies, the trust would pass control of the half-interest quickly to the surviving spouse. When the survivor eventually dies, all of the trust's property would be transferred to the heir without going through long and costly probate proceedings.

Real estate trivia: Hollywood Park Racetrack, considered the "crown jewel" of all thoroughbred tracks when it was opened near downtown Los Angeles 75 years ago by investors that included Bing Crosby and Walt Disney, hosted its final race on Dec. 22. The 238-acre facility will be razed to make room for a shopping mall, apartments and condominiums.

For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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