Ask Kim: How do I get my insurance claim paid after a storm?
A large tree covers a section of a home on Shamrock drive in Charlotte, N.C., following a strong storm. (Jeff Siner/ Charlotte Observer photo / July 17, 2013)
A. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that this year's hurricane season (which begins on June 1) could include up to 20 named storms, seven to 11 of which could become hurricanes (the average hurricane season has 12 named storms and six hurricanes). If you do become the victim of a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, storm or other disaster, the following steps can help you get your homeowners claim paid without delay and find out whether you qualify for other assistance.
-- Make an inventory. Before a storm hits, update your home inventory. (Several apps, such as the one from KnowYourStuff.org, make it easy to go through your house with your smartphone and take pictures or videos that show your possessions and special architectural details.) An inventory can be particularly important if your home is totally destroyed, such as after a tornado, because you don't want to have to remember every item that was damaged while you're still in shock over the loss of your home.
-- Make contact. Call your insurance agent or company right away, even if you haven't been able to get to your home and assess the damage yet. After major disasters, many insurers' websites feature lists of contact information, the location of mobile claims units, apps to help you report claims, and instructions about what to do right away. After the initial contact, keep in touch with the insurer and agent by email. Doing so gives you a paper trail of the steps you have taken -- which can help if you end up having trouble getting claims paid. Keep records of every phone call and email communication you have with the insurer throughout the claims process.
-- Take pictures first. Take photos of the damage before you clean up or make any temporary repairs so that the insurer can see what the house looked like right after the storm. Keep receipts for any materials you buy; the money you spend may be reimbursed by your insurer.
-- Make basic repairs. Your insurer won't want you to make any big changes until you meet with the adjuster. But that can take quite a while after a major disaster. You should make basic repairs as soon as possible -- such as putting a tarp on a damaged roof or covering broken windows -- to prevent any additional damage.
(Kimberly Lankford is a contributing editor to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, $18.95). Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)