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Filing Insurance Claims After a Disaster: Helpful FAQS

Insurance is something you buy but hope you’ll never have to use. So unless you’ve gone through it before–and we hope you haven’t–you might not be fully aware of how the claims process works after a natural disaster or what you can do to locate (or replace) important records you’ve lost after a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake.

Here are the answers to some common insurance claim questions, courtesy of our partner Hiscox.

What is the claims process? What can you expect?

For starters, the policyholder is responsible for contacting his or her insurance agency if a loss occurs. It’s a good idea to let them know as soon as possible. You’ll want to avoid making permanent repairs while also doing your best to protect your property from further damage. If you have broken windows, for example, avoid installing new ones. Instead, cover the windows with a board or a tarp to keep from letting in additional water or debris.

Your insurance company should acknowledge they’ve received your claim within 24 hours and establish what you should expect moving forward. Though some insurers will have an emergency team for processing claims after a disaster, keep in mind that claims may take longer than usual due to their increased number. The adjuster will come up with an offer based on your policy and the damages your property suffered.

You can read more about the claims process in the Rocket Lawyer article, How to File an Insurance Claim After Hurricane Sandy article.

Are there any tips that will help you write an effective insurance claim?

There are. It’s best to provide as much supporting documentation as possible in the form of receipts and credit card statements (or, if you’re a business, daily sales logs, inventory reports, and the like). This helps the insurance adjuster arrive at a fair value for your property. You may be able to submit receipts for a hotel stay if you’re forced to relocate, though that is largely dependent on what kind of policy you have.

You should also take care to return all phone calls and emails with your insurance claim adjuster as soon as you can and save copies of paperwork in your files.

What happens if your claim is rejected?

You have a few options in the event your claim is rejected. If you feel that your insurance policy isn’t being correctly interpreted, you can first ask the insurance company to revisit your property to reassess the damages and their cause. You can also get a second opinion from a licensed contractor to use as a counter-proposal. Insurance companies take complaints seriously, as state regulators demand a response to complaints from paying customers.

When is it time to talk to a lawyer?

Ideally, you won’t have to get an attorney’s help with the insurance claims process, but there are two main reasons you may want to consider contacting a lawyer. The first is to get an attorney to look over your policy. A lawyer can help you determine if your settlement is fair and accurate. The second reason is to threaten or bring action against your insurance company.

Where should you keep your insurance records? And what happens if they’re destroyed?

It’s always a good idea to keep insurance records—as well as other important duplicates, like a copy of your birth certificate—away from your home or office. Commonly, people will keep additional records in a safety deposit box, with family in a different location, or create electronic records they can access remotely.

If your documents are destroyed, your insurance company will have a copy of your policy. But it’s important to store your documents securely, as well as understand how to replace important paperwork in the event it’s lost.

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