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How to File an Insurance Claim

Here are the steps you need to take if you need to file an insurance claim after a disaster or catastrophic event: 

  1. 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, consequential damages may be covered. 
  2. Save receipts for additional living expenses. Many homeowner 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Save receipts for any materials purchased. These are reimbursable if they are reasonable and necessary. 
  5. Don’t make extensive repairs. Wait to make extensive repairs until the claims adjuster has been to your home and assessed the damage. 
  6. 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” rather than performing a full evaluation. If the adjuster does not render a full evaluation of the loss on the first visit, secure an appointment for a second visit. 
  7. Keep all paperwork. Keep any paperwork from the insurance company, FEMA or other emergency agencies and store it in a secure location. 
  8. 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. Ask friends and family to help jog your memory for items you had before the disaster. If possible, photograph or video record the damage. Surviving photographs or videos taken in and around your home also may help.  
  9. 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.  
  10. 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.  
  11. File claims as quickly as possible. Claims generally are settled in the order received, although the most severe cases may receive the highest priority.  
  12. 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 severe situations. A sign with your name, street number, insurance company and contact information can speed up your claim.  

Documenting Lost Items  

Part of preparing for a disaster should include a home inventory. If you don’t have one, here’s how to create one: 

  • Estimate the fair market value of damaged or destroyed items. Look through catalogs, newspaper ads and online retailers.  
  • Determine the current value of vehicles.  
  • Determine the value of land versus building values. Check with your county property tax assessor. 
  • Get a copy of the escrow papers for your home. Your real estate agent, the title company, the escrow company or the bank that handled the purchase or refinance should be able to provide this. 
  • Determine the value of any home improvements you’ve made.  
  • Get probate values of property you may have inherited. Check court records to get the most accurate information.  
  • File Form 4506, “Request for Copy or Transcript of Tax Form,” with the IRS or if someone else prepared your tax returns, contact that person to request copies.