Written by attorney Annette Griggs


If your home or property has been damaged by a tornado, severe storm, flood, hurricane, or earthquake there are steps you should take to help you when filing a claim with your insurance company. 1. Call your insurance agent or insurance company to report your claim. Report the damage to your insurance agent or insurance company representative. Ask questions such as: a. Am I covered for these losses? b. Does my claim exceed my deductible? (Your deductible is the amount of loss you agree to pay yourself when you buy a policy.) c. How long will it take to process my claim? d. Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to structural damage? e. What documents do I need to substantiate my losses? f. What do I do if I don't have receipts for my household items that have been destroyed? g. Does my policy provide for living expenses while I am unable to live in my home? Additionally, it is VERY IMPORTANT to photograph the damage to your home and personal belongings. It is especially important to photograph the remains of valuable or unique items such as china, guns, collectibles, jewelry, antiques or other items that have been destroyed. Try to show the make, brand, model number, type, etc. in the photographs. Your insurance company may dispute the existence and value of your valuable items which could cost you thousands of dollars. The more proof and documentation the better! Save remains of expensive items for proof of their existence. Don't throw them away until after you have been fully reimbursed for the cost of those items!!! 2. Get Reimbursed for Temporary Repairs: If you are able and it is feasible, make temporary repairs to prevent further weather related damage to your property. Cover holes in walls, doors and windows with plastic or boards. DO NOT risk your own safety in making the repairs. Beware of building contractors that encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Remember that payments for temporary repairs are part of the total settlement. If you pay a contractor a large sum for a temporary repair job, you may not have enough money for permanent repairs. a. Save receipts for any material you buy. Your insurance company should reimburse you for the cost. b. Don't make extensive permanent repairs until after the claims adjuster has been to your home and assessed the damage. c. Avoid using electrical appliances, including stereos and televisions, that have been exposed to water. 3. Get Reimbursed for Additional Living Expenses (ALE): Most homeowner's policies cover additional living expenses such as food and housing costs, telephone or utility installation costs in a temporary residence, extra transportation costs to and from work or school, relocation and storage expenses and furniture rental for a temporary residence. KEEP RECEIPTS FOR EVERYTHING YOU SPEND! Your insurance company will usually advance you money for these expenses. The payments will be part of the final claim settlement. Let your insurance company know where you can be reached so that the claims adjuster can give you a check. While this information will vary depending upon your individual insurance policy, the rule of thumb is: the maximum amount available to pay for additional living expenses is generally equal to 20% (percent) of the insurance on your home. So on a home insured for $100,000, up to $20,000 would be available. This amount is in addition to the $100,000 to pay for repairs or to rebuild your home. Some insurance companies pay more than 20 percent. Others limit additional living expenses to the amount actually spent during a certain period of time, such as 12 months, instead of a maximum percentage of the policy limit. 4. Prepare for the Adjuster's Visit. The claims process may begin in one of two ways. a. Your insurance company may send you a claim form, known as a "proof of loss form," to complete. Be very detailed in filling out this form. b. An insurance adjuster may visit your home before you're asked to fill out any forms. An adjuster is a person hired by your insurance company to assess the damage. Makes notes of all conversations and meetings you have with the adjustor, i.e. details of what you discussed, the date, time and name of the person to whom you spoke. Major disasters make enormous demands on insurance company personnel. Your adjuster generally will come prepared to do a thorough and complete study of the damage to your home. If the adjuster doesn't make a complete evaluation of your losses on the first visit, set up an appointment for a second visit. Be sure to keep copies of lists and other documents you submit to your insurance company. Also, keep copies of whatever paperwork your insurance company gives you. 5. Getting Reimbursed for Loss of Personal Belongings: a. Make lists of the damaged items. Include the brand names and model numbers of appliances and electronic equipment. If possible, take photographs of the damage. Don't forget to list items such as clothing, sports equipment, tools, china, linens, outside furniture, holiday decorations and hobby materials. Keep copies of the lists for your file. b. Use your home inventory or put together a set of records - old receipts, bills and photographs - to help establish the price and age of everything that needs to be replaced or repaired. c. If your property was destroyed or you no longer have any records, you will have to work from memory. Try to picture the contents of every room and then write a description of what was there. Try also to remember where and when you bought each piece and about how much you paid. d. Don't throw out damaged furniture and other expensive items because you will need them to substantiate your losses. 6. Repairing or Replacing the Structure of Your Home: a. Identify the structural damage to your home and other buildings on your premises, like a garage, tool shed or in-ground swimming pool. b. Make a list of everything you would like to show the adjuster when he or she arrives. This should include cracks in the walls, damage to the floor or ceiling and missing roof tiles. If structural damage is likely even though you can't see any signs of it, discuss this with your adjuster. In some cases, the adjuster may recommend hiring a licensed engineer or architect to inspect the property. c. Have the electrical system checked. Most insurance companies pay for such inspections. d. Get written bids from reliable, licensed contractors on the repair work. The bids should include details of the materials to be used and prices on a line-by-line basis. e. If your home is totally destroyed, you must decide whether to re-build or buy a new home. Talk to your adjustor about these options. Above information was modified from the Insurance Information Institute website at

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