A violent storm damages your house. A grilling accident leaves your guest injured. A burglar breaks in. When an unfortunate event strikes close to home, you might need to file a claim with your insurance company. As part of the contract between you and your insurer, a claim against your homeowners insurance policy comes with rules and procedures that both your insurer and you must follow.
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First steps to a 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 as you may need to provide the details of the event to your insurer.
- Phone your insurance professional immediately. Ask the following questions: Am I covered? How long do I have to file a claim? Will my claim exceed my deductible? (If your loss is lower than your deductible, you probably won’t want to go through the claims filing process.) How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to structural damage?
- Promptly fill out claim forms. If you establish that you’ll be making a claim your insurance company will send you the necessary claim forms—by law, these must be sent to you within a specified time period. Return the properly filled out forms as soon as possible in order to avoid delays.
- Have the insurance adjuster inspect the damage. Your insurance company will probably arrange for an adjuster to come and inspect your home. An adjuster is a company representative who inspects property damage to determine how much the insurance company should pay for the loss. He or she will interview you and inspect the property.
- Prepare for the insurance adjuster’s visit. Be prepared to show the adjuster any structural damage and have a list of damaged items ready so you can make the best use of the time.
- Make temporary repairs. Photograph or videotape the damage, then take reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage. If possible, avoid throwing out damaged items until the adjuster has visited your home. Save receipts for what you spend—you may be able to submit them to your insurance company for reimbursement later.
- Prepare a list of lost or damaged articles. You’re going to need to substantiate your loss, so make a list of destroyed or damaged items, then make a copy of the list for your adjuster. Also, supply him or her with available copies of receipts from damaged items. (Having a home inventory will speed this part of the claims process).
- If you need to relocate, keep your receipts. Keep receipts and records of all additional expenses incurred. Most homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for additional living expenses in such cases, but you’ll need to provide proof of the costs.
- Don’t be shy about asking questions. If you have any questions about the claim filing laws in your state, call your insurance professional or your state department of insurance.
State laws require that you be sent payment promptly. But after you and your insurance company agree on the terms of your settlement,
What should you NOT do when filing a home insurance claim?
Homeowners often make several errors that can delay their claim or affect their payout:
- Throw away items: Swerling says one of the biggest is discarding items too soon. “You need to document your loss with as much detail as possible,” she says. “Don’t dispose of the evidence until you get an agreed upon payout.”
- Wait too long: “A common mistake is failing to contact your insurance company professional immediately after incurring a loss,” says Michael Barry, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. “By acting quickly, you can begin the claims filing process and have an insurance adjuster sent to your home to assess the damage.”
- Not complete claims forms in a timely manner: The claims process can drag on if you don’t provide your insurance company with paperwork for proof of loss, receipts and other documentation to approve your claim. You will get your claim form after 30-40 days. The longer you wait to complete these forms, the longer the process takes.
- Not understand your policy: Standard home insurance often doesn’t include flood coverage, so homeowners must purchase it separately. Swerling says public adjusters frequently encounter policyholders who think their policy covers more than it actually does. Policyholders often don’t carry enough coverage for personal property, she says. However, you should insure your personal property at the same level of coverage at which you insure your home. You need to ask your insurer to increase your policy limit so that this coverage is included.
How long does it take for an insurer to pay a claim?
Unfortunately, some state laws are vague in this area. In South Carolina, insurance companies are granted a “reasonable” amount of time to either deny or payout your claim. Around California, insurers have 40 days to either accept or deny a claim. In North Carolina, insurance companies are required to acknowledge receipt of your claim within 30 days, but there’s no set timeframe on when they must settle. because “each claim is different and the length of time to settle may vary,” the state says.
“In many states, there are either regulations or laws which require an insurance adjuster to at least visit your home within a certain timeframe,” Barry says. “The claims payout requirements are going to differ from state-to-state because insurance is regulated at the state level. If the policyholder is unable to live in their home because of an insured loss, many home insurers will issue a check to the policyholder immediately to pay their additional living expenses — like hotel costs and food — since they do not have access to their home.”
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