Dealing with a disaster and your insurance company

7. Don't settle for less.

It can be a blessing if your insurance company sets up an emergency claims office in the area and offers to settle partial claims on the spot. This is a practice of many large insurance companies experienced in disaster management. But don't jump at immediate relief. Occasionally, a less scrupulous insurer will try to slip in language on a small settlement that states the payment is a full satisfaction of the company's liability.

And be careful of anything you sign, warns Walsh.

"Under those circumstances, most major companies won't require that you sign anything other than endorsing the check," says Walsh.

Even before you do that, make sure that there isn't language on the back of the check that prevents you from making any further claims.

8. Don't take the first offer.

You don't have to accept the first settlement your insurance company offers. If you don't think a settlement is enough, go back and look over your policy. Read the coverage limits for various types of structures and personal possessions and check how the insurance company is applying each type. Talk to the claims adjuster. If he doesn't provide satisfaction, go higher.

"If you're sure you're right, don't take no for an answer," says Gorman.

If all else fails, file a report with your state insurance department.

"In a disaster situation, no company wants the state insurance department breathing down its neck," says Gorman.

9. Consider the alternatives.

It's possible that your policy limits you to rebuilding exactly the same house in the exactly the same place. Many policies don't. Consider whether you want to use this opportunity to move to a condominium or pick up stakes and sail around the world.

10. Get help.

Filing any insurance claim generally is a do-it-yourself task. In most cases, that's not a problem -- as long as you are dealing with a reputable insurance company and you are reasonably assertive and willing to stay on top of the claim. But if you're unable to be near the property or the claim is complicated or you're not well, you might consider hiring a licensed public adjuster. For about 10 percent of the claim, they'll read over your policies, submit the paperwork and follow up on any problems.

11. Vet the repair services.

Your insurance company may offer to wave a deductible if you're willing to work with a contractor it recommends. While this can be a good thing, Walsh warns that it can also lock you into hiring a company whose work doesn't meet your standards. Whether you go with the insurer's choice or find somebody on your own, don't be in such a rush that you neglect to check references or sign on the dotted line for work that you don't want. And if the insurance company is paying the repair company directly, don't sign anything that approves payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction.

12. Continue to be vigilant.

Even after you've submitted a claim, stay on the lookout for damage that may take weeks to appear. Storms sometimes trigger things such as sinkholes and other earth movement that occur days or months later. And foundations of houses may shift or settle weeks after flooding. But don't let too much time pass. Find out your policy's time limit on making claims and meet that deadline.


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