Millions of people are looking for help after Hurricane Sandy, whether they’re figuring out how to cope without electricity or addressing more significant property losses.
As damage reports come in, it’s a good time to review your own situation. Here are seven insurance tips:
It’s easier to file a damage claim if you know exactly what you own and can document it. Free online software to ease the process is available from the Insurance Information Institute at www.knowyourstuff.org. The software enables users to upload photos of their belongings as well as receipts for major purchases.
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Homeowners can also simply write down a list of major property in a notebook, and take photos, noting key information about each item on the back.
Read your insurance documents and review the scope of your coverage. Know where to find your policy numbers and how to file a claim. Call your agent or insurer with any questions. If you don’t have a hard copy of your policy, be sure to check it online before the storm hits — you may not have power for a while after the storm.
A standard homeowners policy includes a deductible, so the homeowner must pay for a portion of the damage before insurance covers the rest. Typically, that’s either $500 or $1,000. But out-of-pocket expenses in coastal areas for hurricane damage can be much higher.
Look for the deductible percentage and other details on a “declarations” page, the first page of a homeowners policy.
Standard homeowners and renters policies cover damage from wind, including hurricane wind damage, and any wind-driven rain entering a home. But damage from water on the ground, or water seeping into a basement from below, isn’t covered unless a homeowner has a flood-insurance policy. Flood coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program and from a few private insurers.
The Insurance Information Institute estimates that fewer than one in five homeowners has a flood-insurance policy, although four out of five natural disasters involve flooding.
Consumers can find out their risk of a flood and the cost of a policy by going to www.floodsmart.gov. There’s typically a 30-day waiting period from the purchase date before a flood policy takes effect.
Homeowners who live in a federally declared disaster area may be eligible for federal assistance in the form of grants and loans.
Anyone who receives assistance will need to buy flood insurance as a requirement to the aid. The policy will need to be maintained for the life of the loan.
If your car is damaged by floodwaters from a hurricane or other disaster, expect to be covered if you’ve purchased a comprehensive auto-insurance policy. About 80 percent of U.S. drivers have comprehensive coverage. If you only have liability coverage, flood damage won’t be covered.
Standard homeowners policies cover damage to a house from a fallen tree, and tree damage to garages, sheds, fences and outdoor pools. Comprehensive auto insurance will cover damage to a car.
It gets trickier when a tree in your yard falls onto a neighbor’s property. Generally, the neighbor’s homeowners policy will cover that damage.
However, you could be liable if your neighbor warned you the tree was weak before the storm, and you didn’t do anything about it.