Filing Homeowners Insurance Claims

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No matter the cost of your premiums, you never want to file a homeowners insurance claim. Unfortunately, natural disasters and accidents happen and to protect your financial well-being you might need to file a claim with your home insurance company. We will walk you through the process to file a claim for damage or loss of your home, a liability claim or if you need additional living expenses, and provide some tips along the way.

Filing a Claim for Damage to Your Home

The most common homeowners insurance claim filed is for damage to the structure or loss of a policyholder’s home. Note that claims are only payable if they are caused by specific types of causes, or perils, listed in your policy. To see the common perils covered in standard policies, check our coverage guide here. If you need to file a claim due to a covered peril, these are the steps you need to take.

Contact your home insurance company immediately if you’re thinking of making a claim. Who you contact will depend on the company that insures your home. For example, State Farm employs captive agents who sell policies to customers and then serve as the customer’s point of contact with the company. Policyholders then communicate with their individual agent to make changes to their policy or to file claims. Other companies without captive agents, such as Progressive, have local claim offices that policyholders can call or visit to file a claim. If you aren’t sure what type of agent you worked with, go to your insurance company’s website and find a phone number to call - audio menus can always connect you with a claims department.

The agent you ultimately speak to will ask you some general questions about the claim to help determine if the cost to repair the damages will exceed your deductible. If it does and you would like to file the claim, the company will send an adjuster to your dwelling. Adjusters evaluate the damage, make sure it is something the insurance company will cover and estimate the cost of the repairs. If you need to make any temporary repairs before the adjuster evaluates the damage, go ahead and make those - just remember to photograph the damages beforehand and save the receipts for any materials you needed to buy. Your insurance claim should cover that cost.

Once a claim is approved, insurance companies typically send policyholders an advance of half of the amount of money of the claim. Policyholders can begin making repairs and their insurer will send the remaining half of claims after the work is complete. If you have a mortgage, which frequently requires a home insurance policy, the claims checks will have both your name and the name of your mortgage lender. This way the checks will be deposited to your escrow account and your mortgage lender can ensure the repairs are made.

Making a Claim for Damage to Personal Belongings

Damaged or lost personal belongings might seem obvious but everyone owns more than they think. You should have created a list of your personal belongings when you purchased your homeowners insurance policy. Reference that list and make sure that all of the belongings are accounted for and unscathed. Anything that is damaged should be photographed. Again, hopefully you’ve photographed all of those items previously and your insurance company will be able to see it was damaged and pay your claim. 

Remember that some insurance policies cover the actual cash value of your personal belongings and some cover the replacement cost value. If you’re unsure of the difference between the two, our guide breaks down each one. If you have a replacement cost policy but decide not to replace the lost items with replicas, most insurance companies will pay you the actual cash value for them.

Claims Involving Theft and Burglary

If the damage to your home is a result of a theft or burglary, notify the police as soon as possible. You need to file a police report for the crime and obtain a copy of of the report to provide to your insurance company. This is important to insurers because a police investigation will help determine the legitimacy of the crime. Without that investigation, an insurance company would have to first evaluate whether you as the policyholder were telling the truth about the crime.

The process to obtain a copy of the police report can differ, depending on the agency. Officers at the scene should provide you the report number and information on how to obtain a copy. If they don’t, simply ask them for it and for some direction after their initial investigation. Once you have the report number you will likely have to obtain a copy one of three ways: either in-person, by mail or online. 

How to File a Liability Claim

It is the responsibility of the policyholder to inform their home insurance company as soon as possible of any incident that might result in a liability claim. Like you would for a claim related to damage to your home, a policyholder should get in touch with their home insurance agent or the claims division of their company. If you aren’t sure how to reach either of those, call your company's general number and the simple audio menus will get you in touch with the right person. 

For example, say someone visiting your home slips, falls and is injured. Your home insurer needs to know exactly how the fall happened as well as the place and time it occurred, the name of the person injured and their address, the name and address of any witnesses and a description of any damage or injuries caused. Insurance companies need this information in the event the policyholder is ultimately held responsible and must file a claim. Reporting an incident like the one described above will not impact the cost of your premium.

Policyholders also are responsible for notifying their homeowners insurance company as soon as they are aware of any lawsuit filed against them. In addition to that notice, customers need to copy and forward any litigation-related documents to their insurance company for review. If the home insurer determines the incident will be covered, there are a number of things that will be expected of you as a policyholder.

Your carrier will have you complete informational forms related to the lawsuit against you, and preserve and possibly send them any evidence related to the incident. As your home insurer handles the claim and the lawsuit against you, be aware you will likely be requested to appear in court or at a deposition per the request of the litigating party or your own carrier.

Remember, there are a number of incidents that home insurance liability will not cover, such as any harm caused by intentional acts, including sexual abuse, and any harm caused during provision of business activities. For example, say a policyholder's family member gets into an argument that results in them punching a visitor. You home insurance policy will not cover any damages or a lawsuit against you resulting from that act. The liability portion of home insurance will not cover any harm caused by your vehicles either. That typically falls under your car insurance policy's property damage liability (for any repairs you're deemed responsible for to other people's property) or bodily injury liability (if you wind up causing harm to other people).

Additional Living Expenses (ALE) Claims

If a policyholder’s home becomes unlivable as a result of a covered peril, they can file a claim for additional living expenses. This claim can be filed for a check up-front to cover these costs or filed to reimburse costs incurred while a home is being repaired. The need of the policyholder determines when they file this claim. If you’re filing to reimburse costs such as a hotel stay, food and other expenses, make sure you keep the receipts of the covered expenses to submit to either your specific insurance agent or claims office, depending on your home insurance company.

Additional living expenses should be granted to a policyholder regardless of any claim disputes over the home or personal belongings. No policyholder should be denied this benefit of this policy if their home is not livable.

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