3 Steps to Insuring You Survive the Next Natural Disaster
Preparing your records and information for filing insurance claims after facing a natural disaster
We were deep in conversation about the tremendous impact that all of the recent hurricanes have had on the state of Florida and other parts of the southeastern U.S. when Morris’ wife Carol walked into the room and handed us a leaflet reminding us that September had been National Preparedness Month. We agreed that “better late than never” was an appropriate direction here and we decided to take Carol’s hint and bone up on the subject.
We went to the internet and typed “disaster preparedness” into our favorite search engine. We had absolutely no idea how much information existed on the subject. Our entry put us at the top of a list that contained nearly one million websites. Oh, by the way, all of this had been brought to Carol’s attention because of a free “preparedness” brochure that she picked up during a stop at her favorite coffee house. Talk about a country all on the same page!
One of the first sites that popped up during our web search was www.redcross.org/prepare a resource offered by the American Red Cross to help you and your family prepare for natural and human-caused disasters. One of the key goals of the site is to serve the vulnerable population: seniors, children, people with disabilities, animal and pet owners and businesses.
A disaster can cause significant financial loss. Your home may be severely damaged or destroyed. You may be forced to live in temporary housing. Income may be cut off or significantly reduced. Having access to important household and personal financial records will be critical. If you have insurance, you’ll want to make sure the insurance company pays you fairly for all covered property and possessions damaged or destroyed in the disaster. To do that, you’ll need to prove that a loss took place and confirm the value of that loss.
The following steps will help you give the insurance company an accurate list of your property and thus the best possible settlement:
- Make a list of everything that you own – item by item. If possible, photograph or videotape every bit of it. And be sure to update the list at least once or twice a year. It is amazing how your assets can grow from month to month – especially if you have growing children. Keep one copy of the list off the premises. If you have your check book on computer consider signing up for an internet backup service. With this option your financial records can be updated on a daily basis and kept off premises – and once you are on such a service you don’t have to do a thing. Remember, if you don’t have an inventory list in hand after the fact making one from observation and memory will leave you “short changed” when it comes time to settle with the insurance adjustor.
- Draw a floor plan of your home. Include notes on finishes such a baseboard, flooring, wall finish, crown mold, etc. Take lots of pictures inside and out. Remember, you’re likely to remember large items, but it’s the myriad of small ones that get forgotten.
- Collect and save receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements and invoices to prove the value of lost possessions, including big-ticket items such as antiques or jewelry. If you can afford one these are all best kept in waterproof containers stored in a fireproof safe.
Reconstruct Lost Records
Even the best organizers will lose records in a disaster. And you may need to reconstruct some of those records if you plan to file an insurance claim, take a tax deduction for your loss or apply for government aid. Here are some tips for recreating financial records and determining the value of your possessions:
- Look through catalogs or want ads to establish a fair value for your damaged or destroyed items. Insurance for renters or homeowners may pay only the actual cash value for your possessions (replacement cost discounted for age or use).
- Use a Blue Book (available at banks) or consult a car dealer to determine the current value of vehicles. Get a copy of the escrow papers for your home from your real estate agent, the title company, the escrow company or the bank that handled the purchase. Go to your county assessor for property tax records to determine the value of the land versus the value of the building.
- Contact lenders and contractors to determine the value of home improvements you have made.
- Check court records for the probate values of property you may have inherited.
- File Form 4506, Request for Copy or Transcript of Tax Form, with the IRS to obtain copies of previous federal income tax returns. A small fee may be charged for this service.
It is amazing what a disaster victim has to deal with. Everyone will need to know what happened. You will need to notify your creditors and your employer. You will need to file an insurance claim and you will have to deal with an insurance adjustor and possibly even a repair contractor or two.
For more information, contact your local Red Cross or office of emergency management. They can provide valuable information and assistance in the event of a disaster. The Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency also have a brochure that gives you tips on how to prepare financially before a disaster strikes. To find more information on the internet, contact:
The coffee house brochure Carol picked up defined being prepared as “an easy way to ease your mind.” Well, we aren’t sure that this is so true for those who have been through a disaster, but preparedness definitely is a step in the right direction. To find more valuable information on what to do before, during and after a catastrophe check out the Red Cross site we reviewed www.redcross.org. And that’s all there is to it. For more home improvement tips and information visit our website at www.onthehouse.com or call us at 1-800-737-2474 every Saturday, 9 AM to 1 PM EST. And, good luck!