Homeowners Insurance Claims Guide
We all hope that we will never have to file a claim for theft, injury or other perils in the home.
But the fact is that most homeowners do have to file an insurance claim at some point, whether because their home is broken into, a fire occurs, somebody is injured in an accident, a component like plumbing fails, or a tree limb falls on your roof.
And since none of these events are things we wish to dwell on, many people fail to prepare ahead of time for the possibility that a claim must be made.
One of the main reasons you pay home insurance premiums is to have the peace of mind that if unfortunate events occur, you will be protected from financial loss, which only compounds the emotional stress and trauma experienced!
Prepare in Advance of Claims
Waiting until an insurable peril occurs to prepare almost always ends up costing time and money for homeowners, so following these tips will help you to be prepared in advance and know what steps are required should you need to file a homeowner’s insurance claim!
The claims process varies somewhat from one insurer to another and depending upon what event takes place and whether your loss involves theft versus damage to your property, personal injury or a combination of these unfortunate circumstances.
You will want to print this guide and keep it handy so that you can quickly refer to it in case the need does arise to file a home insurance claim.
In general, your standard homeowner’s insurance policy provides safety and security for your home and personal belongings as well as covering injuries incurred by anybody on your property.
Since your homeowner’s policy is essentially a contract between you and your insurance company, there are consumer protection laws, rules and procedures that both you and your insurer must follow. It is important that you read your insurance and understand your responsibilities and those of your insurer.
Remember that you are responsible for substantiating losses that occur due to an insurable peril. The key to substantiating value of articles that have been stolen, lost or damaged is to document and inventory your belongings ahead of time, keeping receipts for gadgets, jewelry and other personal belongings you purchase and storing these records off premise in your bank safety deposit box or other safe location.
For items such as antiques, collectibles and artwork, be sure to get professional appraisals periodically in order to document their value and be sure to discuss scheduled items with your agent if your valuables exceed the standard limits of your policy in order to insure them for full replacement value.
If you file a claim, your insurance company is required to start an investigation within fifteen days of receiving written notice. Your insurer will ask for detailed information about your loss. Once you have provided such details, your insurance company is allowed fifteen business days to accept or reject the claim.
If the insurance company does agree to pay for a claim, it must do so within five business days. On the other hand, if your insurance company rejects your claim, it must explain the reasons why in writing.
What to do in Case of Theft or Vandalism
- Once you have taken reasonable precautions to ensure the security of you, your family and your home, immediately report a crime to the police for investigation.
- Obtain the police report and names of all law enforcement officers that you speak with, keeping a copy of all records for yourself and a second copy for your insurance company.
- Create a list of all items stolen and/or damage to your property and provide this list to the police.
- As soon as possible, contact your insurance company to report the theft and/or damage and initiate your claim; it is extremely important you do not wait to begin the claims process.
- Your home insurance policy specifies a time limit for filing claims, so be sure to ask about the time limit, whether or not the damage is covered, whether the loss is likely to exceed your deductible, how to obtain and complete the claims form and any other forms your insurer requires, how long it should take to process your claim and what estimates are required for repairs in the case that damage to your property is involved.
- You will need to determine whether the amount of your loss exceeds your deductible and by how much in order to assess whether or not to file a claim with your insurer; if the total loss is under $1,000 and your deductible is $500 for instance, you will want to consider whether or not filing a claim makes sense. Consulting your insurance agent may be helpful in making this determination.
- If your loss is substantial, a claims adjuster or representative will be assigned to inspect your property and investigate further. With smaller claims the adjuster often times will not make an on site inspection, depending on your insurer’s policies and procedures.
- You should take photographs or video the damaged areas of your property, making at least two copies so you have your own copy for reference and copies for the police and your insurance company.
- If needed, make temporary repairs to your property to prevent further damage from occurring and keep the receipts so that you can be reimbursed by your insurance company. If you are not able to live in your home and need to relocate during repairs, keep your receipts for receipts since these expenses are normally reimbursable according to the additional living expenses (ALE) provisions of your policy.
- You are responsible for substantiating your loss, so do not dispose of any damaged items before the police report and adjuster’s inspection, if required, is complete and you have adequately documented the damage with photos and video.
- When you and the insurance company have agreed on the amount and/or terms of your settlement, insurance laws in most states laws require the insurer to pay your claim promptly. Should you have questions or complaints contact your state insurance department.
Claims Involving Injuries
- Make your home as safe as possible; injuries can be caused by improper use of tools, hazards that cause someone to fall, drowning in a swimming pool, electrical and other potential hazards.
- If someone is injured on your property, first seek treatment. If the injury is severe, call 911 and get emergency medical attention promptly.
- Be sure to keep all receipts for medical treatment, prescriptions and related expenses for reimbursement by your homeowner’s insurance company.
Claims Involving Natural Disasters
- If your home is damaged by a storm, earthquake or other natural disaster, seek help from government authorities; personal safety should be your first concern.
- In most cases, large scale natural disasters will involve government authorities, local, state and/or federal and emergency personnel. You should always cooperate with authorities and follow any special directions that are issued.
- Once immediate danger has been alleviated, contact your insurance company and complete any claims or other forms as instructed. Oftentimes, insurers set up special emergency hot lines and temporary claims centers quickly after a major disaster.
- Create a detailed list of damage to your home and property, taking photographs and/or video if possible. Retain your receipts, cancelled checks and other financial records associated with losses, temporary living expenses, etc.
- Keep a log of your conversations with authorities, insurance representatives and others involved; the better your records the stronger your case and the more likely you will be to receive adequate compensation for your losses.
- If possible, avoid making any permanent repairs to your property until the claims adjuster has completed an inspection. Make temporary repairs if needed to prevent looting or other further damage from occurring, always taking precautions to maintain your own personal safety; you are better off losing property to looting than putting yourself in harm’s way following a significant natural disaster!
- You should always be sure you understand what perils are covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy; typically a standard policy does not cover damage resulting from earthquakes and certain other natural catastrophes like hurricanes in areas prone to such storms, so if your area is prone to such disasters, you should consider supplemental insurance coverage if is it available.
- The claims process can be confusing, so be sure to read claims settlement documents carefully before agreeing to terms and seek the advice of a lawyer or public adjuster if in doubt. However, be wary of “experts” that sometimes come out of the woodwork following a natural disaster as not all of them are legitimate!
- If damage to your property is substantial, estimates for the repairs will be required during the claims process, with your claims adjuster and contractor(s) assessing the repairs needed, materials to be used and associated costs.
- Your adjuster should explain the estimated repairs, costs and your deductible and any other out of pocket expenses.
- You will need to provide your adjuster with an inventory of and property and personal belongings that have been damaged or destroyed.
- If your claim is substantial and your home has a mortgage or note outstanding, payment is typically made to you and your lender to ensure all repairs are made and the value of your home is kept intact for the lender’s assurance. Your contractor(s) may also be named on the check written by your insurer.
- Once your claim has been settled, in most cases you can select a contractor(s) yourself to make the needed repairs.
Additional Homeowner’s Insurance Claims Tips
- Always be polite and patient with police, medical personnel and your insurance company representatives, following rules and procedures as directed in order to get your claim processed as quickly as possible.
- Avoid making smaller or frequent home insurance claims in order to get the best possible discounts and rates on your homeowner’s policy; your insurance company may cancel your policy or choose not to renew if you make frequent claims for minor losses like glass breakage, lost items, etc.
- Know what losses your home insurance covers and the dollar limits and benefits provided on the declaration page of your policy; ask your insurance agent or company representative if you are in doubt about any of your policy’s terms or provisions.
- Always have your policy number available when contacting your insurance company and be prepared to answer detailed questions about the event that has occurred.
- Always document damage or loss with as much detail as possible, including photos and video before making repairs or removing damaged property.
- Always be present when your insurance adjuster inspects your property and, if possible, have your contractor(s) on site as well to discuss with the adjuster what repairs are needed, the technical details and materials to be used.