Homeowners insurance claims process

1. Check for damages. Carefully look over your home and personal belongings after the incident. Take photos or videos of damages.

2. Get in touch with the insurance company or agent right away. Insurance policies require notification of loss as soon as reasonably possible. This can typically be taken care of with a phone call or an online/app communication. The claim process cannot begin until the insurer knows a loss has occurred.

3. Make temporary repairs to prevent further property damage. Turn in receipts to receive reimbursement for this claim-related expense.

4. Start a reference file. Settling a claim involves significant paperwork. Stay organized by keeping pertinent information in a central location. Place all claim-related communications in this folder so documents are easy to locate during the settlement process.

5. Gather information to support your claim. Start with locating your insurance policy. Claims are paid according to terms outlined in the insurance contract. Check coverages, exclusions, loss settlement terms, policyholder duties as well as policy limits and deductibles. Pull together photos or videos to document destruction. Make an itemized list of damaged belongings. Be as specific as possible noting make, model, value, etc. A personal property home inventory is a tremendous help in this task. For structural damage, get multiple repair estimates from trusted, reputable contractors. Do not, however, begin repairs without the adjuster's approval.

6. Claim number and adjuster. The insurance company will assign a claim number and adjuster to your loss. Note this information along with the adjuster's contract information in your reference file. The adjuster will begin a detailed investigation to verify coverage was in place when damage occurred; evaluate cause of loss; assess damage; verify applicable policy coverages; prepare a written estimate of the cost to rebuild, repair or replace; and develop a settlement offer. Be prepared to show damages, discuss the incident, provide prof=of of loss and sign forms. Promptly return requested information prior to the due date to speed the claim resolution process. Stay in touch with the adjuster. Ask questions as they arise. The adjuster is best equipped to respond to specific questions about your claim.

7. Settlement checks - dwelling. Most homeowners policies cover structural damage on a replacement cost basis, which means no reduction for depreciation. There may, however, be two checks. The first is an advance, often reduced for depreciation. A second check will be prepared when repairs are done. There are times when claims are paid and closed with one check, but this comes with the promise to reopen the claim if additional damage is found during the repair process. Keep in mind the claim settlement check may be made out to two parties if there is a mortgage on the property. Fine print in the loan document gives the lender rights to confirm repairs are made if the home suffers damage. A total loss to the house cannot exceed the dwelling coverage limit unless the policy includes guaranteed or extended replacement cost coverage.

8. Settlement checks - contents. Prepare a detailed list of all damaged or destroyed belongings. Be as specific as possible, including description, purchase price, approximate age, and cost. Personal property losses are settled on an actual cash value basis, which means payment is reduced for depreciation. Contents replacement cost coverage is an optional endorsement - but must be added before the loss occurs. Policyholders with contents replacement cost coverage typically receive a settlement check for the depreciated amount of loss and a supplemental settlement check when damaged items are replaced. Be prepared to provide receipts to prove these purchases.