Knowing how to properly file an insurance claim can help prevent payment from being delayed – or even denied altogether.

Key Takeaways:

  • Notify your insurer as soon as possible to get the claims process started
  • Carefully review your policy for details on coverage, deductibles, and exclusions
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help when negotiating a settlement

Whether it’s damage from a windstorm, smoke from fire, or defacement from vandalism, there are any number of reasons why you may need to file an insurance claim. The contract you initially signed with your insurer outlines the process by which these claims are filed, evaluated, and either paid or denied.

But filing a claim is only one step in this process. You should also be prepared to provide an itemized list of damages, keep close track of expenses that follow the incident, and stay in regular contact with your insurer so that you receive appropriate compensation. You will also need to handle a visit from an adjuster and be ready to appeal the insurer’s settlement if necessary.

Below, we dig into the claims process from start to finish so that you know what to expect before you begin.

Review your insurance policy

Before you file, make sure you understand what’s in your policy.

  • Coverage. The most important question to ask is: what does my policy cover? What additional coverage have you purchased? Keep detailed notes as you go in case anything is unclear.
  • Deductibles. How high is your deductible? Depending on the level of damage, you may or may not want to actually file a claim. If the estimated cost to make repairs is lower than your deductible, it’s probably better to just pay out-of-pocket rather than risk an increase in rates.
  • Exclusions. Some common disasters and accidents are not covered by regular homeowners policies, including earthquakes, floods, and infestations. But some insurers allow you to purchase additional coverage that can handle these issues as well as others such as home business liability and sewage backups.

Remember: the more thoroughly you understand the ins and outs of your policy, the better able you’ll be to prepare for what’s to come.

Document the damage

Once you’ve reviewed your policy, it’s time to make a detailed record of what actually happened.

  • Take videos and photos. Go room to room and capture everything that was stolen or damaged, particularly if you need to make immediate repairs that will change the house before the claims adjuster visits.
  • Make a list. Write down everything that was destroyed, damaged, or stolen, and estimate its value. If you already have a detailed home inventory, this process gets much easier. An appraiser will conduct an interview to give an estimate of how much the insurance company will pay in compensation.
  • Keep anything that’s damaged. Even if you need to repair or replace something immediately to address safety concerns, don’t throw out the damaged items as they may be important to getting an accurate estimate.
  • Get repair estimates. You need to know how much you can expect to pay to fix everything in order to determine whether you’re getting fair compensation from your insurer.

Once you’ve got a handle on these points, it’s time to contact your insurer.

Notify your insurance company

Whether or not you decide to file a claim, your policy most likely requires that you alert your insurance company as soon as possible in the event of a fire, storm, or theft. When you make the call, be sure to have the policy and your list of questions on hand. Describe the damage in detail and make sure to get all the information you need, including what is and is not covered, how long the process will take, and what is expected of you.

Although it’s important to be as thorough as possible, don’t delay the call if you don’t quite have all your details organized. You may need to get in line for an insurance appraiser and it may take time to find qualified professionals to make repairs. Be sure to ask how long you have to file the claim so that you can plan ahead. Keep detailed notes or a spreadsheet of every interaction you have with the insurer, contractors, law enforcement, or anyone else involved in the process.

If the damage to your home is significant enough to warrant staying offsite, be sure to keep any receipts for hotels, meals, gas, and other expenses that wouldn’t ordinarily incur.

Prepare for the claims adjuster

A claims adjuster investigates what happened, assesses the damage, and comes up with a settlement offer. Here are a few tips to help prepare for the adjuster’s visit:

  • Take inventory of the damage. Note the exact date and time the incident occurred and any other helpful details. Thoroughly document it with photos and videos.
  • Gather key documents. These include photos, videos, receipts, repair estimates, and witness statements and contact information.
  • Make sure you’re there. Technically, you’re not required to be present when the adjuster visits, but it’s in your best interests to be there to answer questions and provide context for things that may not be obvious at first glance. Also, if you have written estimates for repairs, it can help to show them to the adjuster.
  • Ask about the timeline. Many states require insurance companies to respond to claims within a set timeframe, so don’t be shy about asking how long the process will take.

The more you know about how to effectively handle a claims adjuster, the better your chances of getting the best settlement offer possible.

Understand the settlement offer

After the adjuster visits the property, they will determine the amount of damage, go over your policy in detail, apply any deductibles, and consider any exclusions. They will then reach out with an offer.

Payment typically comes in multiple checks for the various parts of your claim, which may include personal property damage, structural damage, and additional living expenses. In addition, other people may be included on the checks you receive, such as a mortgage lender, who requires that you add them as an additional insured. This means you’ll need their signature on any payments made with the settlement money.

If you want to dispute the settlement offer, ask for the denial in writing. If your insurer is unwilling to change the offer, consider contacting your state insurance department, and, if that doesn’t yield results, an attorney.

Let the experts lend a hand

Filing a homeowners insurance claim can take anywhere from a couple of days to a few months depending on how complicated your claim is and how well you’ve prepared your supporting evidence. It pays to have partners who can read through and interpret all the fine print and stick up for you as you embark on what could be a long journey.

NICRIS Insurance is your ally during this time, advising on coverage, exclusions, adjusters, settlements, and much more. Schedule an appointment today, and we’ll be happy to provide a free estimate.