Insurance Steps to Take After a Disaster
This resource describes the steps to take in dealing with your insurance company after a disaster. #9904EN
Should I read this?
Yes. If your property was lost or damaged because of a recent disaster, this information may help you get the money you need to replace your belongings.
Living through a disaster is stressful and overwhelming. The most important thing is to make sure you are safe. If you are safe, taking some of these actions can help you recover from the disaster more easily.
We adapted this publication from materials authored by Lone Star Legal Aid with their permission.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The most important thing is to make sure you are safe and have all of your basic needs met. Find emergency shelters near you at redcross.org or call the Red Cross at 800-733-2767. Shelters are open to anyone. There are no income or citizenship requirements for emergency shelter.
Do not return to your home until it is safe. Returning to your home and documenting the damage are an important step to recovering from the disaster. However, this step can wait until after officials announce that it is safe.
- It may be hard to see your home after the disaster. It is common to feel stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms. You can call or text 1-800-985-5990 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the Disaster Distress Helpline.
Keep receipts for any extra living costs (like hotels and meals) for as long as you are unable to return home.
Call your insurance company to inform them of your loss. Be clear that you don’t know the extent of the damage or how much it will cost to fix. You will need to follow up with written notice of your loss, including additional documentation. You will have time to figure out exactly what was damaged later.
- Document the damage before cleaning up or making repairs. If possible, take photos and/or videos of property damage. Go through your home room by room to make sure you don’t miss anything. Make a list of damaged or lost items.
- Find a copy of each insurance policy that might help cover a loss (homeowners/renters, car, health, etc.) If you don’t have a copy, your insurance agent can provide one.
- Check each policy for deadlines or special requirements. As you start to repair or replace damaged property, try to follow the rules of the policies.
- Find out if you need approval from your insurance company before spending money or making contracts.
- Keep receipts for any clean up, repairs or replacement items.
- Keep notes whenever you talk with your insurance company, agent, or broker. Include dates, times, and people in the conversation.
- Keep copies of all letters, emails, and other communications sent to and from your insurance company or agent.
- Check with your insurance company to learn how they want a claim submitted and where they want it sent. The company might require that you use a certain form or include specific information. They might just require a letter that explains what you lost. Send a written notice, even if you have already called to inform your insurer. Keep a copy for your records.
- Send in proof of loss (photos, receipts, and so on) and other documents the policy requires to get coverage and payments from the insurance company. Include an itemized list of all expenses.
- Request partial or advance payments as needed. Do not sign a release or waiver form and do not accept a check that states that it is a full or final settlement, unless you feel that it actually fair.
- Don’t give release (or give up) your claims until you think the insurance company is offering a fair amount. Review checks, payments, letters, emails, and so on from your insurance company and make sure you understand what they say. Language like “full and final settlement” or “waive all claims” means you will not get any more money in the future. If you are in doubt, call your insurance agent and ask them to explain it. If it still doesn’t make sense, you may need to talk to a lawyer.
- Follow up with your insurance company about your claim.
- Get legal help if you feel someone is treating you unfairly.
Only claim damages for what you actually lost. It is tempting to pad (exaggerate) your claims because you think the insurance company might offer less than you deserve. Reporting inaccurate information can get you in serious trouble. It is better to list everything that was lost or damaged, along with a reasonable value to repair or replace it.
Do not let the insurance company rush you into a quick settlement. Insurance claims take a long time to process. Trying to speed up the process may mean you do not get everything you deserve. You can request a partial or advance payment if you need money right away to pay for recovery. Do not sign a release or waiver form and do not accept a check that states that it is a full or final settlement, unless you feel that it is fair.
Be cautious when working with the claims adjuster. Be courteous and respectful, but remain assertive about what you think is fair. You must cooperate with reasonable requests for information from the insurance company, but review their requests and proposals carefully. Get a second opinion, if anything seems out of the ordinary or unfair.