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How to Make an Insurance Claim

insurance agent assessing damage

If you need to file an insurance claim due to a disaster or catastrophic event, here are the steps you will need to take:

Collect all policy numbers and insurance company phone numbers.

Plan to file a claim even if your home or property is not covered for the type of disaster that occurred because consequential damages may be covered.

Save receipts for additional living expenses.

Many homeowners’ policies cover additional living expenses such as housing and food costs, temporary residence, additional costs for transportation to and from work and school, and storage expenses. Find out if you are eligible to receive an advance from the insurance company for these expenses.

Make temporary repairs that are “reasonable and necessary” (if it is safe to do so).

For example, cover holes in the roof, walls, doors and windows with plastic or boards to help prevent further weather-related damage.

Save receipts for any materials purchased.

These are reimbursable when confirmed that they are reasonable and necessary. Wait to make extensive repairs. Wait to make extensive repairs until the claims adjuster has been to your home and assessed the damage.

Find out how the company will process claims.

Heavy demands are placed on insurance company personnel in widespread disaster situations, and time restrictions may force adjusters to “scope the loss.” If the adjuster does not render a full evaluation of the loss on the first visit, secure an appointment for a second visit.

Keep all paperwork.

Keep any paperwork from the insurance company, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or other emergency agencies. Store this paperwork in a secure location and make second copies for safekeeping.

Get an independent assessment if required.

Keep in mind that insurance companies sometimes require independent assessments from public adjusters, who sometimes charge a fee for their services, which can be a percentage of the insurance proceeds.

Check with your state to confirm how much an adjuster may charge and their qualifications. Be careful of those who spontaneously show up on your doorstep. If you feel it is necessary to secure a public adjuster, ask your insurance agent or attorney for a referral and don’t forget to do a background check.

Make an accurate list of the damage.

Check your damages list against any inventory you may have made before the disaster occurred, or make a pre-disaster inventory from memory. To jog your memory for items you had before the disaster, ask friends and family to help. In addition:

  • Photograph or videotape the damage. Surviving photographs or video taken in and around your home also may help.
  • Draw floor plans or a sketch of your home’s interior. Repeat the process in two or three weeks, because it’s likely you will remember additional items. Don’t consider your first list to be the final one.
  • If you are unsure of the market value of damaged property, check the internet, walk the aisles of local stores, or leaf through catalogs. Don’t throw out damaged furniture or other high-priced items. The adjuster will want to see damages. Be sure to retain clothing, as smoke or water damage can render it unrecoverable.

Collect all available receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements and invoices.

Use these to prove the value of lost possessions, including big-ticket items such as computers or jewelry. You also may request copies of monthly statements from your bank and credit card providers.

File claims as quickly as possible.

File the claim as soon as you have a list of damaged or destroyed property. Claims generally are settled in the order received, although the most severe cases may receive the highest priority.

If destruction is severe and widespread, erect an identifying sign on your property.

It might be difficult for a claims adjuster to identify your property in sever situations. A sign with your name, street number, insurance company and contact information can speed up your claim.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by National Endowment for Financial Education.]