(5/11/2012) If you've had damage to your home due to natural disasters, theft, or other events, your insurance policy is designed to help you recover and rebuild. But first you need to file a claim. There are ways to ensure a smooth process, and make sure a stressful situation doesn't snowball.
Sooner is always better than later when filing a claim. Contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible - even if the event is still in progress. Giving a company notice of damages immediately will help make the process smoother. Be sure to note the person you spoke to, the day and time, and what was discussed, on this initial conversation and all calls going forward. Keeping good records will aid the process significantly.
IF IN DOUBT, CALL
Not sure if your home insurance policy covers the damage your home has sustained? Call anyway. Even if a flood, earthquake or other disaster is not specifically covered in your policy, there may be other coverage that can help. For example, your policy may cover out-of-home living expenses for a case of loss of use of the home. This can be a lifesaver in the midst of disaster. Additionally, insurance companies can recommend sources for emergency repairs, which can help you contain the situation.
Record the damage done with photographs, video, and lists. Get any damaged rooms, walls, and belongings on film, and don't throw any damaged items away - the insurance claims adjuster who will come to inspect the damage needs to see them. Write down what's damaged, what's not, and what's missing for a complete and helpful list. If damage was caused by fire or theft, collect official reports from the responding agencies (fire or police departments).
PROTECT WHAT'S LEFT
The insurance company will want to make sure that you contained the damage and prevented further damage. That means if a flood has occurred, move the dry items out of the line of fire. If you allow further items to become damaged, the insurance company may deny your claim on the basis of negligence.
WORK WITH THE PROCESS
Your insurance company has a series of steps they follow in case of claims. When you talk to your agent or customer service department, determine what these are and follow them to the letter. Patience and understanding will go a long way towards ensuring your requests are honored. Do what you can to be helpful - when the insurance claims adjuster comes to inspect damage, be there. And be ready to point out what needs to be noted.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
When you follow these tips, you're doing everything right. If your insurance company suggests a settlement that doesn't seem satisfactory, you are entitled to challenge it. Feel free to get second or third opinions from local contractors on the damage. If you feel unfairly treated, contact your state department of insurance for guidance and support.