Tragedies like the Dixie Fire and the Caldor Fire bring the devastating impact of a wildfire to the top of everyone's mind, even if you live outside the fire line. Developing your disaster preparedness plan should include ensuring you're ready to file the appropriate insurance claim if need be to help repair and rebuild your property.
Learn how to prepare to file a homeowner's insurance claim in the event that disaster strikes.
Ensuring You're Prepared to File A Claim
Verify Your Coverage
There are several steps you can take before a wildfire or other natural disaster strikes to ensure you'll be covered should the worst happen. To begin with, it's important to review your homeowner's insurance and other policies carefully to ensure that you have adequate coverage. This is especially true for homeowners who live in high fire risk areas like many Californians do.
Many standard homeowners policies cover damage from fire, smoke, and even damage caused by firefighters while extinguishing a fire. Additional living expenses (ALE) such as rent and hotel bills, transportation, clothing, and other costs beyond your normal living expenses may also be covered.
The best way to understand what is included in your policy is to read through it and get in touch with your insurance agent.
Organize Your Documentation
Gathering certain documents in advance can help you be more prepared in the event of a wildfire. Consider items like:
- A home inventory documenting the items in your home, particularly the most valuable ones like jewelry and computers.
- The deed to your house
- Your driver's license
- Birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Other relevant personal documents
Returning Home After A Wildfire
Keep Your Receipts While Evacuated
If you are evacuated due to a wildfire or other disaster, keep your receipts while evacuated. Because many homeowner's insurance policies cover additional living expenses, saving receipts for things like hotels, restaurants, etc. can help you when the time comes to file an insurance claim.
Assess the Damage and Contact Your Insurance Company
When you are able to safely return to your property after being evacuated, survey the area for damage. Keep in mind that many homeowner's policies cover not only the structure but some personal property. Take pictures to document the damage and make a list of all losses -- a home inventory will be helpful at this stage. Include the amount you paid for the items, if possible.
You'll want to contact your agent or insurer right away to begin the claims process. When talking to your insurance agency, consider asking:
- How long you have to file a claim
- How long it will take to process your claim
- Whether you'll need estimates for any repairs
Communicate With Your Adjuster
Your insurance company will assign an adjuster to work with you to process your claim. You may also choose to work with a public adjuster.
Fill out any paperwork your insurer sends you before your adjuster visits, and be prepared to show them the full extent of the damage to your home and property. It's important that your adjuster has a complete idea of the losses and damage suffered. You may need to get bids from contractors estimating how much it will cost to repair or rebuild your home. Communicating clearly with your adjuster and keeping all relevant documentation can help your claims process go smoothly.
Dealing with the impact of a wildfire can be devastating. Gathering relevant documentation and preparing a home inventory in advance can help make navigating this emotional process a bit easier.