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The basics of filing a home insurance claim

November 29, 2016
It's important to understand how to file a homeowners insurance claim.

Insurance is an investment and is designed to help out financially when necessary. For a homeowners insurance policy, though, this can take a different tack than medical or even auto insurance. A house is a shelter and so much more, and its high value is justified by how important it is. That makes it easy to understand why homeowners insurance is essential, but using it can be another story entirely.

To request financial reimbursement for something covered under an insurance policy, the owner must file a claim. Without having done this before, it can be a confusing process. Get familiar with the claims process of your insurer now and be prepared for when you might need it, as in an emergency.

Filing the claim

"Insurance is there to help when the unexpected happens.”

If your home or possessions have sustained damage, your insurance coverage may be able to step in to help. As Smart Asset noted, claims need to be filed as soon as possible after any damage occurs. Then, you'll need to document and report what happened according to the rules laid out by your policy or insurance agent. Before doing any of this, you may want to take a few steps first:

  • Assess the damage:  Severe weather is a common cause of insurance claims, but often the issue is minor. Especially if you think it will not cost much to repair, consider whether or not you even need to file a claim.
  • Know the value:  In the case of damaged or lost items, the insurance company will need to know the value of these things. Keep track of your most valuable belongings and how much you paid for them.
  • Claims adjusting:  The insurer may have a claims adjuster come to assess the damage in person. Have all the required information available before he or she arrives.

Special scenarios

Of course, using your insurance policy is rarely this cut and dry. There's no telling how many different things might go wrong with a home or to the people and possessions inside. Keep in mind these common but tricky scenarios when filing homeowners insurance claims:

  • Water damage:  As Trulia explained, the way insurance handles a water damage claim depends on what exactly caused the problem in the first place. Flooding from a storm is generally not covered by private insurance, and is instead handled by a federal program. When it's caused by a burst pipe, however, insurance may come in handy. Most recommend using insurance to help with extensive damage caused by major events like a burst pipe. In the case of a minor leak, consider fixing it with out-of-pocket funds.
  • Injuries:  Accidents happen, and fortunately any injuries that result from them could be covered by homeowners insurance. If someone slips and falls on your property due to negligence on your part, your insurance may be asked to foot the bill. As Bankrate explained, this could cause your premium rates to increase.
  • Fires:  A house fire is a terrible situation that is often expensive as well, even if the structure remains intact. But as Trulia noted, homeowners need to weigh their options if a fire occurs. If the cause of the fire could be determined as a defective appliance or arson, for instance, insurance will usually foot the bill. But if the homeowner themselves is at fault, they may be out of luck.

The nuances of insurance are hard for many to fully understand. Work with your insurance agent to be certain you know the details of your policy and how to go about filing an effective claim.