1. Prepare for the worst:
- Make an evacuation plan - choose two places to meet, one right outside your home for a sudden emergency such as a fire, and one outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home.
- Create an emergency kit - include bottled water, a first aid kit, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, non-perishable food items, blankets, clothing, prescription drugs, eyeglasses, personal hygiene supplies and a small amount of cash.
- Make a plan for your pets - Red Cross supported-shelters won't take pets but other shelters may. Check with your local veterinarian for help with a plan.
- Take proactive steps to protect your property from loss - be sure there is no loose siding on your home and no damaged or diseased trees growing over your home.
2. Take an inventory of your property:
- Take photos or videos of your home to record the condition of the home and email the photos to yourself, a friend or relative or store them online.
- Take an inventory of your personal property such as clothes, jewelry, furniture, computers and audio/video equipment. Photos and video of your home, as well as sales receipts and the model and serial numbers of items, will make filing a claim simpler. Leave a copy of your inventory with friends or relatives, email it to yourself and/or store it in a safe location. In addition, add insurance information, such as the name of your company and agent, policy number and contact information to your inventory. It can also be helpful to utilize a home inventory app or template. Download the free MyHome Scr.APP.book home inventory app or the printable home inventory checklist from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
- Move all of your important documents to a safe location. Take them with you when you evacuate or store them in a safe deposit box outside the area.
3. Review your insurance coverage:
- What does your insurance policy cover? What does it exclude?
- The standard homeowners insurance policy does not cover flood damage. Check if your policy covers debris removal and sewer back-up.
- Find out if your policy covers additional living expenses to reimburse you for the cost of living in a temporary residence if you are unable to live in your home.
- If you have jewelry or collectibles, check the limits of coverage. You may want to buy more coverage for these items.
- What is your deductible? You will have to pay at least this much if you have a covered loss.
- Understand the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value (ACV). If your coverage is for replacement cost value and the cost to repair the property is greater than the cost to replace the property, the insurance company will reimburse you the dollar amount needed to replace damaged personal property or dwelling property with like kind and quality, limited by the maximum dollar amount shown on the declarations page of the policy. For example, if you own a five-year-old lawn mower that is destroyed by a fire, the company will reimburse you with an amount to purchase a new, similar lawn mower, less your deductible. If your coverage is for ACV and the cost to repair the property is greater than the ACV of the property, the insurance company will reimburse you the dollar amount to replace the property less the amount of accumulated depreciation. For example, if that same lawn mower was destroyed, and the average lawn mower lasts ten years, the company will only reimburse you for half (10 years minus 5 years) of the cost of the item, less your deductible.
4. After disaster strikes:
- Call your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible. Keep a diary of all conversations with insurance companies, creditors or relief agencies.
- Take photographs/video of the damage.
- Make the repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls). Don't have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs.
- Save all receipts, including those from the temporary repairs covered by your insurance policy.
- If your home is damaged to the extent that you can't live there, ask your insurance company if you have coverage for additional living expenses.
- Be wary of contractors who demand upfront payment before work is initiated or payment in full before work is completed. If the contractor needs payment to buy supplies, go with the contractor and pay the supplier directly.
- Get more than one bid. Ask for at least three references. Check with the North Dakota Secretary of State and the Better Business Bureau about the contractor. Ask for proof of necessary licenses, building permits, insurance and bonding. Record the license plate number and driver's license number of the contractor.
- Contact the North Dakota Insurance Department if you have a dispute with your insurer about the amount or terms of the claim settlement.
Snow and ice can cause severe damage to property. It is important to know what to do when your home is damaged:
- Call your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible. Be sure you cooperate fully with the insurance company and ask what documents, forms and data you'll need.
- Take photographs/video of the damage.
- Make the repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls). Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs.
- Save all receipts including those from the temporary repairs covered by your insurance policy.
- If your home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live there, ask your insurance company if you have coverage for additional living expenses incurred for accommodations while repairs are being made and save all receipts to document these costs.
Damage caused by wind, wind-driven rain, damage to your home from trees or other falling objects, collapse of a structure due to weight of ice or snow are all covered under most standard homeowners policies. Frozen pipes as the result of extreme cold weather may not be covered if the damage is due to negligence, such as failing to maintain an adequate temperature in the house when the ability to do so is there.
Interior water damage from a storm, when there is no damage to the roof or walls of your home, damage as the result of a flood, removal of fallen trees (if the trees did not land on and damage your home), food spoilage due to a power outage and water damage from backed-up drains or sewers are not covered under most standard homeowners policies. Some insurers offer endorsements (additional protection that may be purchased) for certain coverages not covered under the standard homeowners policy, so check with your agent or company to determine your needs.