insurance

Earthquake insurance: sturdier home coverage

Other insurers may lower your premium if you put sprinklers in your home, install metal straps to the walls and roof, or use different trusses, says Jim Whittle, chief claims counsel at the American Insurance Association.

Consider additional coverage

Some earthquake policies don't cover your belongings, just the structure of the house. Read the policy carefully to be sure. If you want to cover your contents, you may need to purchase a more comprehensive earthquake insurance policy, which will likely increase your premium.

If you have expensive items, such as fine art or jewelry, you may want to consider buying extra earthquake coverage for those things, on top of the coverage you get for your home's more ordinary contents. Similar to homeowners policies, earthquake insurance will cover items up to a limit.

"For example, your limit for contents coverage may be $100,000, but on fine art you may have a limit of only $5,000," says Whittle. "That may not be enough for the art you have."

Another type of coverage you might buy as part of an earthquake policy would provide "additional living expenses," money to cover the costs of temporary housing and other basic needs after a disaster.

See if your other policies cover quakes

Just like homeowners, renters will find their rental insurance doesn't cover damage from earthquakes. Renters who want to insure their belongings against quake damage will need to scout around for a separate earthquake insurance policy on top of their renters insurance.

Meanwhile, comprehensive auto insurance typically covers vehicle damage incurred in an earthquake, says Whittle. However, not all car owners have comprehensive insurance; many carry only liability insurance, as their states require. That won't do diddly if your car is damaged or destroyed in an earthquake.

As for other property, check your existing coverage closely. If you have a boat, for example, your marine policy may cover earthquake damage.

Be ready to file a claim

There are a few steps you can take to make filing a claim easier and faster after an earthquake, or any catastrophe. First -- and it may sound silly -- know who your insurer is. Hackett says many times after a disaster, homeowners can't name their insurance company.

Since quakes are so unpredictable, Whittle suggests keeping your insurance agent's card in your wallet, or storing information about your earthquake insurance and other policies in your cellphone.

"We don't want to see people getting killed after an earthquake because they go back in a damaged home to get paperwork," says Whittle.

Second, take inventory of everything in your house. Make copies of receipts from appliance purchases and other big items. Take pictures or video of your belongings. Store this list in a safe deposit box or firebox in your home. Recalling everything that you had is much harder after a catastrophe. Being prepared ahead of time will speed your recovery.

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