What to do After a Loss
(or “How to ADAPT in the Middle of a Catastrophe”)
No one ever expects a fire or tornado to destroy their home or building. Those kinds of things happen to other people. Being the victim of a catastrophic loss doesn’t mean you have to allow yourself to become a victim a second time by relinquishing the control of your claim to others and, as a result, having a less than favorable outcome. Following are some tips and suggestions that will help you ADAPT and stay in command of your claim so that you set yourself up to maximize your settlement. So when the unexpected does happen to you, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are hanging in the balance, just ADAPT.
- Put any request for information or answers in writing to the adjuster. It will send them a very obvious message that you are taking this claim seriously and it will force them to respond in kind. What is in writing carries infinitely more weight than what is spoken.
- Your first request ought to be to ask your adjuster in writing to provide you a complete copy of your policy with all forms and endorsements. The policy is the instruction manual for the claim. You will need an up-to-date copy. It is free. Again – ask for it in writing.
- Your adjuster is going to keep a written log of all activity associated with your claim (including conversations with you). It would be prudent for you to do likewise. Don’t let the insurance company be the only one documenting the claim.
- While you wait for the certified policy, ask your insurance adjuster or agent to print out a current declarations page for you. This document will show you the policy limits for your structure, contents and additional living expenses.
Duties under the policy
- There are certain “duties” within the policy that you have to perform after a loss in order keep your policy in force and receive the benefits to which you are entitled. One of those duties is to prevent additional damage. This means getting broken windows and doors boarded up to prevent theft and additional damage from the elements.
- Have any roof damage tarped or temporarily covered. This cost will be reimbursed or paid by the insurance company. It is your responsibility to protect your property from further damage, not the adjuster. Most adjusters will know of company’s who can do this for you.
- It is common to be asked to give a recorded statement. Take it seriously and be absolutely honest with every answer. Make sure you have them agree, while the tape is running, to give you a copy of the tape as well as the transcript if the recording is transcribed.
- Do not allow anyone to demolish or tear out any of the damaged components. Until the structural portion of the claim is completely and finally settled the structure should remain as is. According to your policy, you have a duty to allow for the inspection of all damaged property. Destroying the “evidence” will only hurt your chances of getting fairly and completely indemnified.
Additional Living Expenses (ALE)
- Don’t allow the insurance company to put you into temporary housing that is half the size of your damaged home. You are entitled to maintain your normal standard of living. So for the sake of your marriage and your kids, insist on accommodations and furnishings that are similar to what you enjoyed prior to the loss. The claim process is going to take longer than you are imagining right now. You will regret it if you disregard this little piece of advice, I promise.
- Keep all receipts for everything purchased during this process: new clothes, laundry, eating out, etc. Just put all of them in one big envelope or file folder. You can sort them out later as you need them. This is particularly true for dining expenses. Your insurance company only owes you for any money that you spend over and above what you normally spend to eat so don’t go eating “high on the hog” thinking that the adjuster will pay for everything.
- Your ALE benefits also include any furniture you might need to rent in order to have appropriate living conditions (beds to sleep in, TVs to watch etc…). Don’t’ go buying new furniture to put into your rental house/apartment because you just risk getting it banged up and scratched when you move it back to your repaired home.
- If you have to drive further to work, or to your kid’s school then you will need to keep a detailed log (date, miles, and purpose) of the additional miles you incur. You are entitled to be reimbursed for this additional expense. This also holds true for the trips you might make to your damaged home to meet with adjusters, pick up the mail or feed your animals.
Personal Property Inventory
- As soon as possible take lots of pictures of the damage, inside and out. The more the merrier. Good wide-angle shots of everything and close-ups of specifics in the most damaged areas. Things are going to disappear from the home during this process and you will be glad to have these photos.
- Ask friends and family members if they have any photos of the interior of your house that may have been taken at a birthday party or some celebration around the holidays. These pictures could be extremely helpful in re-creating what was lost in the fire or tornado.
- If you are too tired or too busy to put together a complete and comprehensive list of all damaged items (including spatulas, half bottles of shampoo, picture frames etc…) then please get some help from an inventory specialist. They will more than “pay their way” and take a real headache off of your plate.
- Do not throw away any clothes or furniture until your adjuster has given you written authorization allowing you to do so.
- Resist the natural inclination to be in a hurry to settle your claim and see quick progress. In the long run, it will be well worth the extra time to work out a proper settlement. Speed is the enemy of a good claim and any impatience you show will be used against you.
- Don’t hire any Public Adjuster until you have received a copy of the insurance company’s estimate of repair. It makes no sense to pay someone a percentage of what the insurance company is going to offer you anyway and you won’t know whether you are going to be treated fairly, or unfairly until you get your estimate. Anybody you might consider hiring to help you with your claim ought to be compensated only for the new money that they can add to the structural part of your claim.
- Be very careful and go slow before you consider hiring the adjuster’s “preferred” contractor. For all intents and purposes they work for the insurance companies and as a result are often more interested in keeping them happy than you, the policyholder. You are a source for one job only for them.
- Absolutely do NOT hire any contractor without first seeing a complete detailed estimate of what he intends to do and how much it will cost. This is your home, and probably your largest investment. Make sure anything you sign prior to getting a complete estimate is only allowing for temporary repair or mitigation type work – very limited authorization.