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Hurricane Joaquin: Get Your 'Home Insurance Go Bag' Ready

by Kristin Wong /

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Getting ready for Hurricane Joaquin isn't just about tossing some water and flashlight batteries in a go-bag. With property damage possible, you also need check your insurance to safeguard your home and belongings.

Gather your documents

In the event of any damage, you’ll want to have your insurance paperwork in order. Your policy might be accessible online, but you still want both digital and physical copies on hand. You probably have multiple insurance policies, too, so don’t forget about any car, wind, boat, or flood insurance you may have.

“If you have time, conduct a home inventory of your property,” said April Eaton, corporate relations manager for Allstate. “It’s helpful to keep track of model numbers and stores where items were purchased. Keep your inventory, including photos and videos, in a safe place away from your home.”

Save a digital copy of this list, too. Along with your policies, keep your inventory list in one place online.

“I have digitized files in the cloud, accessible anywhere from an Internet connection, so if I have to evacuate, I can remotely access my files,” said Donna Childs, insurance expert and author of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best. “I have digitized photos, performance specs, videos, and information on replacement costs.”

It may help to give a trusted friend or family member online access to these documents, just in case.

Know your coverage

Now is the time to review the specifics of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance coverage. Most policies cover storm damage, but unfortunately, that doesn’t include flood damage.

“Flood insurance is offered through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program and policies are sold and managed by private insurance companies,” said Eaton.

This means your insurance company might pay to remove trees that have fallen during the storm, but they won’t cover damage from rain that’s entered your home. And if you’re thinking about rushing out to get coverage before Joaquin hits, think again.

“Keep in mind that coverage does not take effect until 30 days after purchase,” Eaton said.

Most, but not all, policies do cover wind damage, but you’ll want to review your own coverage to make sure it’s indeed part of your policy. Look into the deductible for hurricane and wind damage, because some policies use separate, higher deductibles.

Find out how much your insurance covers for the replacement of damaged items in your home, and how much your house itself is covered in case of a rebuild. If you’ve made upgrades to your home recently without reporting it to your carrier, you may not be adequately covered, so you’ll want to know this in advance. In case of an evacuation, check your policy to see if your carrier covers living expenses, too.

While you’re at it, take a look at your auto insurance policy. If you have comprehensive coverage, that probably includes storm damage to your car, even if it’s from flooding. If you only have liability, don’t expect to be reimbursed for any storm damage to your car.

Have contact numbers ready

In case of an emergency, you’ll want to have important contacts on hand, and that includes your insurance companies. Make sure you know how to reach your agent if necessary.

If your property is damaged, you might need to get a hold of a storm restoration contractor, too. The National Storm Damage Center offers a service that connects you with an inspector for free. A contractor will inspect your property to let you know how much the damage will cost, and that information is useful when you call your insurance company. Or, you may prefer to expedite the process by simply calling your carrier as soon as possible.

“It really depends on how you want to handle it,” said Eaton. “You can call your insurance company and have the adjuster start the claim, and that would help get your claim processed quickly. But some people may prefer to get another opinion and get an estimate on your own, and that’s up to the individual.”

Either way, it’s important to remember you do have a limited time frame to call your agent. Your insurance company may also have a special “CAT” (short for catastrophe) center set up.

“In the event of a catastrophe, like Hurricane Katrina, the insurance company will set up a CAT center far removed from the scene of the disaster so that they have a functional facility,” said Childs. “In my case, on 9/11, my insurance carrier had its CAT center set up in Colorado, so I submitted my claims there. That expedited claims processing.”

Secure your home

There are a few things you should do to minimize the possibility of damage, or at least reduce the impact of the storm once it hits. Trim trees and shrubbery near your home to protect it from potential damage, and make sure your car is out of the way of any branches, too.

If possible, move any outdoor furniture, planters, or trash cans inside, too--anything loose should be secured or brought inside.

Know how the claims process works

Filing a claim can be a headache, so knowing how it works will go a long way toward streamlining the process. If your property does incur damage, you’ll want to take pictures, so make sure to have your phone or camera on hand. Also, assess the damage thoroughly. Your roof is most susceptible to storm damage, so you’ll want to inspect it for any missing shingles, holes, dents, or leaks.

Depending on how you prefer to handle the process, you’ll then either call a repair contractor or your insurance agent. Once you start the claims process, your carrier will send an insurance adjuster to take a look at your property. Once your claim is approved, they’ll send you payment to cover materials, and a contractor will get to work fixing your home.

“Give your insurance company information to pay your claim by electronic bank wire deposit,” said Childs. “In the event of a storm, it may not be possible for you to return to your home to collect a paper check.”

Other types of insurance

If you’re planning to travel when the storm hits, you’ll also want to be aware of your travel insurance coverage, if you have it. Review your terms to see what conditions must be met in order to be covered. there’s travel cancellation insurance--which refunds you if the airline cancels your flight--and travel interruption insurance--which pays for your accommodations if you’re stuck somewhere due to a storm.

Some policies will only refund you if your flight is actually cancelled. At the very least, you’ll want to look into airline and hotel cancellation policies if you have a trip planned. Most policies will allow you to rebook. Similarly, if the storm is set to interrupt your wedding, you’ll want to get your wedding insurance policy in order.

The last thing you want to do in the aftermath of a storm is spend time hunting for paperwork and figuring out what to do. A few key steps can help you minimize the headache.

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