Be Prepared for a Property Loss
With the West Coast at risk for earthquakes, the East prone to snowstorms and hurricanes, and tornadoes threatening much of the Midwest, few places are immune to the fury of Mother Nature. In fact, every year, millions of people face property damage from unexpected events. Natural catastrophes can strike quickly and without warning. In the worst cases - such as Hurricane Andrew, the Oakland Firestorm, Hurricane Ivan, the Northridge Earthquake, and most recently Hurricane Katrina - many people learned the hard way how well their homes and property resisted disaster.
If someone has become injured on your property or if a violent storm destroys your home, you will need to file a claim with your insurance company. Remember, a homeowners policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. And there are rules and procedures that you and your insurer must follow. Read your insurance policy to see what your responsibilities are.
Start Preparation Today
If possible, photograph or videotape household possessions. Pictures are helpful when an item is hard to describe on paper or if a purchase receipt cannot be obtained. Labeling each photograph with information about the item - and if a camcorder is used, providing a commentary of each item and date-stamp on the video - will be highly useful. Remember to go slowly so that each room is thoroughly covered.
Protect and Update the Inventory
Store a copy of the inventory in a safe-deposit box, work office or relative's house, and include copies of any important documentation or receipts. The list should be updated semi-annually to ensure an accurate recording of the home's contents.
HELP! I HAVE TO FILE A CLAIM
How do I file a homeowners claim?
Report any crime to the police
If you are the victim of a theft or your home has been vandalized or burglarized, report it to the
police. Get a police report and the names of all law enforcement officers that you speak with.
Phone your agent or company immediately
Insurance policies place a time limit on filing claims. Find out what the time limit is. Ask questions: Am I covered? Does my claim exceed my deductible? (Your deductible is the amount of loss you agree to pay yourself when you buy a policy.) How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to structural damage?
Make temporary repairs
Take reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage. Save receipts for what you spend and submit them to your insurance company for reimbursement.
Prepare a list of lost or damaged articles
You are going to need to substantiate your loss. Avoid throwing out damaged items until the adjuster has visited your home. You should also consider photographing or videotaping the damage. Prepare a home inventory, make a copy for your adjuster and supply him or her with copies of receipts from damaged items.
If you need to relocate, keep your receipts
If your home is severely damaged and you need to find other accommodations while repairs are being made, keep records of all additional expenses incurred. Most homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for the "loss of use" of your home.
Get claim forms
Once your insurance company has been notified of your claim, the company is required to send you the necessary claim forms to you by the end of a specified time period. (The time period varies from state to state.) Return the properly filled out forms as soon as possible in order to avoid delays.
Have an adjuster inspect the damage to your home
Your insurance company will probably arrange for an adjuster to come and inspect your home.
Once you and your insurance company agree on the terms of your settlement, state laws require that you be sent payment promptly. In most cases, your claim will be processed quickly.