In addition to the physical and emotional impact of a disaster, you may also face financial challenges in the days, weeks and even months or years ahead. Check if you have flood insurance either through the National Flood Insurance Program or through a private insurance provider. Even though you may have flood insurance, some policyholders may only have building or contents (personal property items) coverage; and not both.
Basic homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flooding, there are few private flood insurers and insurance isn’t offered to people who don’t live in official flood plains. If your home has been damaged from floods and you are not covered by flood insurance, there are several steps you can take to file a claim. It is important to understand what protections you have through insurance, and what other resources are available.
Plan to file a claim even if your home or property does not have flood insurance. Collect all policy numbers and insurance company phone numbers. Find out how the company will process claims. If damage is widespread, the company may set up special procedures and send extra personnel and claims adjusters.
Contact your insurance company right away. Notify your insurance company of your loss and get advice about making emergency repairs. Experts urge policy holders, including auto, renters and homeowners, to contact insurers to get the process started because most policies have a time limit for reporting and collecting. Ask the insurance company if it will pay for living expenses, such as a motel, food, and laundry, if you are unable to live in your home. The policy may cover this cost, and if so find out if this payment for living expenses will reduce the amount you ultimately receive for damages in your insurance claim. Note that insurance proceeds used to repair or replace property are tax free in most cases; however, reimbursements you receive for living expenses may be taxable.
Make an accurate list of the damage. Use the list when you file a claim to prove that a loss took place and to confirm the value of the loss. Start with a preliminary list of damaged property and the degree of damage to each item. If possible, photograph or videotape the damage. Check the list against any inventory you may have made before the disaster occurred, or make a pre-disaster inventory from memory. To jog your memory for items you had before the disaster, walk the aisles of local stores, look at newspaper want ads, or leaf through catalogs. Photographs or videotapes that survived the flood taken in and around your home also may help. If necessary, draw floor plans or sketches of your home’s interior. Collect all available receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements, and invoices to prove the value of lost possessions, including big-ticket items such as computers or jewelry. You also may request copies of monthly statements from your bank and credit card providers. Don’t consider your first list to be the final one. Give yourself time to remember additional items later. Repeat the process in two or three weeks, because it’s likely you will remember additional items. Read more about how to prepare to file an insurance claim here
File claims as quickly as possible. As soon as you have a list of damaged or destroyed property, file the claim. Claims generally are settled in the order received, although the most severe cases may receive the highest priority. If the loss is small, you only may be required to provide the insurance company with a simple written estimate for the cost of repairs or replacement. More extensive losses usually are handled by a claims adjuster. Give your adjuster a list of all damages, but note in writing that it’s only a partial list. You may remember more later. Fully explain all losses and be sure the explanations are written down by either you or the adjuster. Take notes of all conversations with the adjuster and follow up with letters to the insurance company confirming the conversations.
This increases the chances for getting a fair settlement, but it also may delay a settlement.
Don’t feel pressured to settle a claim until you are satisfied with it. Use your list of damaged property and possessions to be sure the settlement offer is fair. Speak with your community, friends, and neighbors – what are their adjusters saying? Remember, however, that policies and coverage vary. Appeal an adjuster’s settlement offer to higher company management if you feel it’s necessary, or try to settle through independent mediation or arbitration. You can also reach out to your elected representatives if you feel you are not being treated fairly. Bring in additional adjusters if you’re not satisfied with initial damage estimates. If necessary, hire a structural engineer. Keep in mind, however, that this will cost you more and may cause a settlement delay. You also can hire an independent claims adjuster if it’s a special situation. These professionals can spot claims that homeowners might overlook, especially if the claim is complex or involves a lot of money. Generally, they charge 10 percent of a settlement. Use the same care and caution in hiring a claims adjuster as you would in choosing any other contractor.