If you are a South Floridian, dealing with severe storms like hurricanes is a fact of life. You know you need to stock supplies, make sure your generator is in good working condition and have your window shutters at hand.
However, the need to have good insurance coverage may be something many are not truly familiar with. Not having the proper insurance coverage before the storm hits, as well as dealing with a claim after it does, may significantly disrupt your lifestyle.
Before The Storm
Owning a home brings many responsibilities. Some are simple, like mowing the lawn and paying the electricity bill, but others can seem needlessly confusing. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, do you need flood insurance? What about windstorm coverage? Can you count on the government to step in if you don't have the right insurance?
Flood insurance covers some types of water damage, including rising water from a storm. Windstorm insurance covers wind damage and water damage that was caused by or driven by a windstorm. If you live in an area that could experience a hurricane or a flood, you should look into these types of insurance. Typically, they must be purchased in addition to the basic homeowner's insurance policy. It may be possible to obtain windstorm insurance through a private insurer; for homes in certain high-risk Florida areas, however, homeowners will need to purchase windstorm insurance from a state-run insurer.
You will not be able to purchase insurance while your geographical area is "in the box" — that is, when a hurricane is approaching. Plan ahead so that you do not find yourself without options.
Never assume that your insurance policy covers damage to your home in every situation. Insurance policies contain disclaimers and exceptions, just like most other contracts. You should also make sure that the insurance you buy covers the full replacement cost of your possessions, rather than just the actual value — that way, you can replace what you have lost instead of being compensated for the depreciated value of your property. The replacement coverage should apply both to your house and its contents. Include personal property floaters (additional insurance) if you have valuable items in your home that are not covered by basic insurance, such as art, antiques, and jewelry.
Once you have the proper insurance, keep a copy of the policy in a safe place. You will need it in the event of a natural disaster, so make sure it is accessible. In fact, it is best to keep all of your important documents in a waterproof and fireproof container or safe deposit box. Important documents include not only your insurance policy but also the deed to your home, car title, receipts for large purchases and even irreplaceable family photos.
It is wise to take and store photos and videos of your home and valuables so that, in case of a disaster, you can show the insurance adjuster what you have lost. Keep a list of your photos and videos so that you know what you have recorded.
Review your insurance coverage periodically and know how to contact your insurance carrier in case of an emergency. Do not count on the government to fill in the gaps if you have not obtained the proper insurance.
After The Storm
All of your preparation can amount to nothing if you don't act quickly and responsibly after the storm. After gathering your family and making sure everyone is safe, contact your insurance provider right away. Find out how to file a claim and what information you will need to provide.
If you are able to visit your home, document the damage that the storm caused. You are likely to be required by your insurance policy to perform emergency repairs. If you do perform such repairs, keep all of your receipts. Document everything that you do to the home.
Homeowners have a right to estimates that reflect the true cost of repairs or replacement. They should be careful, however, when estimates seem too good to be true. In the aftermath of hurricanes, unscrupulous contractors appear, tools in hand, seemingly ready to do quick, cheap and high-quality repair jobs. Hire only contractors who are licensed, carry workers' compensation insurance and liability insurance, and procure the proper permits.
Keep records not only of repairs but also expenses that are related to the hurricane. If your insurance policy includes additional living expense coverage, the costs that the hurricane forces you to incur, such as staying in a motel because of the uninhabitable state of your home, will be covered. Additional living expense coverage will not cover your normal expenses, however, such as your mortgage payments.
Sometimes homeowner's insurance claims are wrongly denied. This is a situation in which an attorney can provide valuable assistance, in addition to offering help during the claims process in general.
Protect Your Interests
Your preparations may determine whether you and your family survive a hurricane. Don't forget, however, that being a smart homeowner also means being a smart insurance consumer: review and update your homeowner's insurance coverage as soon as possible.