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

Read an earthquake policy carefully to be sure your belongings are covered, because some quake insurance doesn't cover personal items. If you want to protect your contents, you may need to purchase a more comprehensive earthquake policy, which will likely cost more.

You may want to consider buying extra earthquake coverage for expensive items, such as fine art or jewelry, on top of the coverage you purchase for your home's more ordinary contents. Similar to regular 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

Apartment dwellers will find their renters insurance is insufficient to cover damage from earthquakes, same as homeowners insurance. Renters who want to insure their belongings against quake damage will need to scout around for a separate earthquake policy.

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 by a quake.

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 this may sound silly -- know who your insurer is. Hackett says many times after a disaster, homeowners can't name their insurance company.

Keep your insurance agent's card in your wallet, or store information about your earthquake insurance and other policies in your cellphone, Whittle suggests. That way, you'll be sure to have it when you need it.

"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. Trying to remember everything that you had is much harder after a catastrophe. Being prepared ahead of time will speed your recovery.


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