A homeowner's guide to natural disasters.

How Do I File a Homeowner’s Claim?

If any covered peril damages or destroys your home, you will need to file a claim with your insurance company. Promptly notify your agent in writing. Remember, an insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. And, there are rules and procedures that you and your insurer must follow. Read your insurance policy to see what your responsibilities are.

1. If you are the victim of a theft or your home has been vandalized or burglarized, report it to the police. Get a police report and the names of all law enforcement officers that you speak with.

2. Insurance policies place a time limit on filing claims. Find out what the time limit is. Ask questions: Am I covered? Does my claim exceed my deductible? How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to structural damage?

3. Take reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage. Save receipts for what you spend, and submit them to your insurance company for reimbursement.

4. You are going to need to substantiate your loss. Avoid throwing out damaged items until the adjuster has visited your home. You should also consider photographing or videotaping the damage. Prepare a home inventory, make a copy for your adjuster and supply him or her with copies of receipts from damaged items.

5. If your home is severely damaged and you need to find other accommodations while repairs are being made, keep records of all additional expenses incurred. Most homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for the “loss of use” of their home. However, many policies do NOT provide coverage for the additional living expense if a mandatory evacuation is ordered and there is no loss to your home.

6. Once your insurance company has been notified of your claim, the company is required to send the necessary claim forms to you by the end of a specified time period. (The time period varies from state to state.) Return the properly filled-out forms as soon as possible in order to avoid delays.

7. Your insurance company will probably arrange for the adjuster to come and inspect your home. Cooperate with them as they gather information. The adjuster cannot approve your claim, but the insurance company, in the determination of your claim, often uses their report.

Once you and your insurance company agree on the terms of your settlement, state laws require that you be sent payment promptly. In most cases, your claim will be processed quickly. If you have any questions about the claim filing laws in your state, call your insurance agent or your state department of insurance.