Preparing and Submitting Your Insurance Claim

Start with a Home Inventory

The claims process really begins long before a disaster strikes, starting with an inventory of your possessions. Chances are you have gathered many items over the years that are important to you. Losing those items in a fire or flood could be devastating especially if you have no documents or records to support an insurance claim for their value.

Your inventory should have a detailed list of items in your home, including a description of each item, and make and model numbers if applicable. Include the serial number for major appliances and electronics. The list should include where and when the item was purchased.

There are widely available computer programs and Internet resources to help you easily prepare and manage your home inventory. Once you have completed an up-to-date list you can quickly and easily add new items as you acquire them.

It is best to itemize jewelry and other valuables. Clothing items can be summarized, such as "20 pants, 40 shirts." However, track any articles of clothing that are particularly valuable, such as a designer suit.

Attach relevant sales receipts, bills of sale or other supporting documents to the list and keep it in a safe spot — a bank safety deposit box or a safe in your home. Take a picture of or videotape the item if appropriate. This will help provide additional proof as to its condition if you must file a claim. Your insurance company is likely to have an inventory form available.

Homeowners Insurance Claim Processing Tips

It’s important to follow some basic steps in order to help maintain a smooth claim filing process. The following steps will help you deal with the disaster and prepare for the initial claim filing process:

Gather Your Documents Gather your insurance policy and related insurance records. If the policy was lost or destroyed in the disaster, contact your insurance agent or company to get a copy.

Know Your Policy Understand what your policy says. The policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. Know what is covered, what is excluded, and what the deductibles are.

Report Property Damage Immediately report property damage to your agent and insurance company. Your agent should provide claim forms if required and report your loss to the insurance company. The company will arrange for an insurance adjuster to visit your property and assess the damage.

Follow Up in WritingAfter phoning your agent, follow up with written notification to your insurance company if possible. It should include the following basic information:

  • Your name and contact information, including address and telephone numbers
  • The name and contact information of the insured person, if different from above
  • Location of loss
  • Date and time of loss
  • Brief description of loss

Secure Your PropertyTake precautions if the damages require you to leave your home. Secure your property. Remove valuable items. Lock windows and doors. Contact your agent or insurance company and leave an address and phone numbers where you can be reached.

Prevent Further DamageMake emergency repairs and document them — keeping a file with all of your receipts. Your policy requires such repairs to prevent further weather-related damage to your home and its contents. However, don't make permanent or extensive repairs before the claims adjuster arrives. Also, don't throw out damaged furniture and other expensive items; the adjuster will want to see them.

File Claims As Soon As PossibleDon't let the bills or receipts pile up. Call your agent or your company's claims hotline as soon as possible. Your policy may require that you notify your insurer within a certain time frame. If possible, determine what it will cost to repair your property before you meet with the claims adjuster.

Provide Complete, Correct Information Make a list of everything you want to show the adjuster when he or she arrives. Give the claims adjuster records of any improvements you made to your home such as photos of a deck you had added on. Be certain to give your insurance company all the information they need. Incorrect or incomplete information will only cause a delay in processing your claim. Keep all receipts and take photographs of the damages before and after temporary repairs to submit with your claim. Your insurer will reimburse these costs later.

Keep Copies of All Correspondence Whenever you communicate with your insurance company, keep copies and records of all correspondence. Write down information about your telephone and in-person contacts with your insurance company, including the date, name and title of the person you spoke with, and what was said. Also keep a record of your time and expenses.

Alert: More Ahead on Disputing An Insurance Settlement See “Have a Complaint or Can't Get an Answer? When Things Go Wrong just ahead, for how to dispute your insurance company's proposed settlement with you. 

Ask Questions Ask the company for the specific language in the policy that is in question. Find out if the disagreement is because you and the insurance company interpret your policy differently.

Don't Rush into a Settlement If the first offer made by an insurance company does not meet your expectations, be prepared to negotiate to get a fair settlement. If you have any questions regarding the fairness of your settlement, seek advice from a professional.

Personal Property Insurance Claim Processing Tips

Add up the cost of everything inside your home that has been damaged in the disaster. Review your home inventory to help you remember the things you may have lost.

If you don't have an inventory, look for photographs or videotapes that picture the damaged areas. For expensive items, you may also contact your bank or credit card company for proof of purchase.

When making your list, don't forget items that may be damaged in out-of-the-way places—such as the attic or tops of closets.

Additional Tips for the Claims Process

FEMA also provides a set of guidelines for filing flood insurance claims at its website, at jsp.