Home insurers applied for$35 billion in loss claims in 2011, partly because of the unusually brutal weather. Auto insurers say they’re alarmed about the rising severity of injuries and higher claims costs. And last year, insurance regulators in a number of states started to investigate the possible failure of life-insurance carriers to pay death benefits to policy beneficiaries.
The test of any insurer’s responsiveness to its customers is how well it handles claims. If you have to file a claim on your home policy, it pays to know the right procedures and how to deal with any glitches you might encounter. Here’s what you need to do.
When the loss occurs. First, make sure your family is safe and that emergency personnel have been called to protect your home. As soon as practical, take pictures of the damage. Then take steps to prevent further damage, such as covering a hole in the roof with a tarp and moving undamaged furniture and other items to a safe place. Keep receipts for any money you spend to prevent further losses. But don’t repair anything or dispose of ruined property until an adjuster has examined everything. If you were burglarized, call the police first and your insurance agent later; you’ll need to document your claim with a police report anyway. If someone trips and falls on your front stairs, see to their medical care first. Again, take detailed notes about what happened and get photos of the scene.
When filing a claim. Report the loss to your insurance agent as soon as practical. Your insurer will send claim forms, which you should return as soon as you can. Ask about the time limit for filing claims, details about what’s covered, and how to get repair estimates. If you have an inventory of your possessions, submit it with your claim along with any photos of damage, receipts, police reports, and other evidence that documents the loss. Keep notes about any promises you’re given, the date and time of each contact, and the name and title of each person you deal with.
Make sure the adjuster sees everything. Ask for a copy of his or her report and scrutinize it for mistakes. You’re also entitled to a copy of your entire claims file. Copy everything you give the adjuster and ask for a receipt. If he or she advises you to start repairs, get that in writing so promises and permissions can be accurately passed on if your case is transferred to another person. If you get payments up front for temporary living expenses, don’t sign any documents that make them your last payments or that surrender your right to collect further payments.
Be ready to fight for what you’re due, especially if your claim stems from a natural disaster.