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How to Submit an Insurance Claim

The first thing to do when a disaster strikes is to call your insurance carrier right away.
The first thing to do when a disaster strikes is to call your insurance carrier right away.
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It was more than my winter of discontent. The snow piled up, and piled up some more, and piled up some more after that. Geez, Louise, I've never seen so much snow, and I once lived near the Canadian border. The snow buried my Great Dane up to her boney armpits. The only escape to the driveway was a small path cut through the snow like a World War I trench, minus the rats.

Yes, it seemed like the winter of 2010-2011 would never end. The house, my old house, the house that I will probably haunt when I die, seemed to have weathered the weather with minimal problems. Oh sure, a chunk of ice ripped down my electrical service, and the skylight over the dining room (I like to call it the breakfast nook) table leaked like a broken radiator. Overall, the house, the animals and I survived.

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Then the sun came out. March turned into April. The snow melted into daffodils. What a mess. The chimney looked like a drunken Michelangelo had taken a jackhammer to it. Squirrels ran away with roof shingles between their pointy jowls. Before I knew it, a few nor'easters, a hurricane and a couple of federal disaster declarations blew by. Trees came down. The washed-out driveway looked like the road to Tora Bora.

I called my insurance company. There was no reason why I should enjoy this damage alone. The good hands people were busy. The weather had been so bad in southern New England in 2011 that teams of adjustors traveled from Florida and Texas to help. Even though I pay handsomely for homeowners insurance, I was reluctant to make a claim. I didn't want my rates going up (they didn't) and I did not want the company to cancel me (they haven't -- yet). I filed three claims. The insurance company approved two. My batting average was better than A-Rod's.

I have to admit, filing each claim wasn't as stressful as I thought it would be, although arguing over the claim they denied was a bit taxing. I can only imagine what hurricane or tornado victims have to go through when they have to start rebuilding.

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Property owners buy insurance to protect their homes and belongings from many catastrophes including fire, storm damage, theft and vandalism. Although homeowners insurance is not a requirement in many states, most banks and mortgage lenders insist you carry insurance. Lenders typically want homeowners to carry enough insurance to cover the amount of the mortgage.

The first thing to do when a disaster strikes is to call your carrier straight away. Most policies stipulate that you have to file a claim in a timely manner, typically within two weeks. If someone robs your house or if a person is injured on your property, call immediately [source: Filisko]. When you do, customer service will ask you a series of questions about your claim and the damage to your property. Make sure you to tell them if the house is unlivable [source: Sherman].

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Once you file a claim, document the damage or loss. This means taking photographs of anything that has been broken, smashed, or otherwise destroyed, including antiques, appliances, furniture -- you get the idea. If you have an inventory of your valuables -- and you should -- check the damage against the list. The insurance company will assign an adjustor to your claim. Some claims can be handled by an in-house adjustor. Others will require on-site inspection.

You don't have to wait for an adjustor to come to your property before you call a contractor to repair damages. Get at least two or three estimates on repair costs. Sometimes the adjustor will give you a check right on the spot if he or she agrees with the estimates. If you need to make temporary repairs to your house after it's been damaged, go ahead. Save the receipts and submit them to the insurance carrier for reimbursement [source: Sherman].

If the damage is so bad that you have to move into a hotel, keep track of your living expenses. A standard home insurance policy will pay to relocate you. So called "loss of use" coverage reimburses you for hotels, meals and any other living expenses. Most insurance companies pay up to 20 percent of the coverage price for loss of use expenses [source: Home Insurance].

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Many homeowners can go years without filing an insurance claim. I did until the winter of my...OK, let's not go there again. Others, though, file multiple claims. You know who you are, and the insurance company knows, too.

Filing a claim, even when a disaster strikes, might cause your premiums to increase. Worse, too many claims in a certain period, could force the insurance company to cancel your policy. So, keep in mind that some claims are not worth filing. Experts say to avoid making a claim unless it is three times the size of your deductible. If you have too many small claims, an insurance company is likely to conclude that you're using them to pay for minor repairs. Can you say cancelled? [source: Smith].

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Other experts say don't file a claim for anything under $3,000 in damage. Why? Let's say you have a $500 deductible. And let's say you put in a claim for $2,500. As result, your premium increases $500 a year for three years. That means you're paying the insurance company $1,500 to recover only $500. If you need the cash right away, go to the bank and take out the loan. You'll probably be paying less in interest if you were to file a claim and your insurance increased [source: Filisko].

Denied! There's a word no homeowner wants to hear, but if the carrier denies your claim, many states require them to tell you why. Carefully read the paperwork they send you. Adjustors can make mistakes, or interpret the language of a policy too broadly. If you're still having problems, and believe you were unfairly denied compensation, file a complaint with your state's department of insurance. Also, consider hiring an attorney [source: Filisko]. You can also hire an independent claims adjustor who will inspect the damage just like an insurance adjustor. Many insurance companies will pay the adjustor's fee [source: Smith].

Read your policy and I'll read mine.

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So what wouldn't my insurance company cover? Fallen trees. I love trees, except when they threaten life and limb. However, most insurance companies won't pay to have such dangerous trees removed, until they actually do some damage. As we speak, the trees are now down and my wallet is a lot lighter.

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Sources

  • Filisko, G.M. "Homeowners Insurance: To Claim or Not to Claim?" Houselogic.com Aug. 28, 2009. (March, 27, 2012). http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/home-insurance/homeowners-insurance-to-claim-or-not-to-claim/
  • HomeInsurance.com. "What is 'Loss of Use' Coverage?" (March 27, 2012). http://homeinsurance.com/home-insurance-101/what-is-loss-of-use-coverage.php
  • Sherman Fraser. "How to File a Homeowner's Insurance Claim." San Francisco Chronicle. (March 27, 2012). http://homeguides.sfgate.com/file-homeowners-insurance-claim-7047.html
  • Smith, Nancy. "How to File a Homeowners Insurance Claim." CBS News. Nov. 11, 2009. (March 27, 2012). http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-51363808/how-to-file-a-homeowners-insurance-claim/

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