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Did your property get damaged in a hurricane? Here's how to file an insurance claim

What you need to do to get help after a natural disaster.

Homes and neighborhoods destroyed by flooding and hurricane winds. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / thinkstock / E4C

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The worst has happened. A hurricane has blown through your local area. Trees are down, power is out, and your home suffered damage from wind and water.

Can you live in your home? If not, you’ll need to evacuate to a safe location. Once your family is safe and secure, contact your insurance company and report the damages to your property—you’ll need to file an insurance claim as the first step in your recovery plan. Here’s what you need to know.

What is a hurricane insurance claim?

Technically, there's no such thing as hurricane insurance—instead, you'll have a proviso on your homeowners' insurance policy for wind damage, and (hopefully) a separate policy for flood damage. After a hurricane, you'll need to file a claim for damages caused by wind—such as torn up roofs or fallen trees—with your homeowners' policy agency, and a separate claim for flooding or water damage with your flood-insurance agency. An insurance adjuster will review the damages to your home and decide how much the insurance company will pay for the loss, after you’ve met your hurricane deductible (more on that coming).

When should I file a hurricane insurance claim?

Fallen trees and power lines in front of a hurricane-damaged home
Credit: Getty Images / CHRISsadowski

Though it's tempting to clean up, leave damage that isn't dangerous for the insurance company to see.

Reach out to your insurance company as soon as possible after a hurricane strikes. You’ll need to provide your policy number and contact information like your phone number and email address. Give a full description of the hurricane damage to your home. Be as complete as possible.

“After a major storm, insurers visit those with the most severe damage first, so prepare to provide an accurate description of the extent of the property damage,” says Loretta Worters, vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute. “Be sure to explain any special needs of your family, particularly if personal circumstances require that you get priority.”

So what would make your damaged home a priority for an insurance company? “You’d get priority if your home was unliveable,” Worters says. “Companies can issue a check right away so that the homeowner can get some clothing, a place to live, and food.”

What is a hurricane deductible?

Hurricane deductibles are found in homeowners’ policies in every coastal state and you’ll need to pay this deductible before your insurance coverage will kick in. “Unlike a typical homeowners policy deductible of $500 or $1,000, hurricane deductibles usually are listed as a percentage of the property’s insured value—generally between 1% to 5% of the total coverage,” Worters says.

For example, a home with an insured value of $200,000 would have a hurricane deductible between $2,000 and $10,000. You’ll find the specifics of your hurricane deductible on your insurance policy’s declarations page.

If you don’t have the amount of money for a hurricane deductible put aside in an emergency fund, you may want to tap a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). A HELOC is a revolving line of credit that is secured by your home and can be used for big expenses such as a hurricane deductible.

How do I file a hurricane insurance claim?

Your insurance company may have an 800 number to call for insurance claims. You may also be able to file a claim form online or by calling your insurance agent directly. And, in some cases, an insurance company may come to you. For example, companies like Allstate send teams of adjusters and set up mobile claims centers to areas damaged by hurricanes to help customers file claims.

How do I prepare for the insurance adjuster?

Ask your insurance company when an insurance adjuster is likely to visit your home so you’ll be ready for the visit. In preparation, make a home inventory of your lost belongings and take photos and videos of the hurricane damage. “[Include] the date of purchase and approximate value—and collect receipts if you have them,” Worters says. “Many companies will ask you to submit an inventory of the items.”

Though it may be tempting to clean up the mess, it’s important to keep damaged items as-is for the adjuster to see. “Do not discard anything before your adjuster sees it, unless the damaged item presents a health hazard or local law requires that you discard it,” says Jeremy Edwards, press secretary for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

How do I follow the status of my insurance claim?

Trash and debris placed along the road post-hurricane.
Credit: Getty Images / Jodi Jacobson

The real hurricane clean-up can happen once you have your insurance settlement.

Many insurance companies use text messages to keep you alerted about your insurance claim. You’ll receive a text message after you first report an insurance claim, when an estimate is ready, and when a payment is sent and on its way, according to Worters. If you would like to be alerted this way, ask your insurance company. An agent may also reach out to you through phone calls or emails and by providing a final paper document through the mail detailing the terms of your settlement.

No matter what, keep records of all your interactions with your insurance company. With phone calls, write down who you spoke with, what was discussed, and the date. “The better organized you are, the simpler and smoother the claims process will be,” Worters says.

How do I get emergency help with my home?

Don’t tackle repairing severe damages to your home on your own, even temporary repairs. Hurricane wind, rain, and any storm surge can leave behind unstable infrastructure and standing water, both of which are very dangerous to handle without proper training and gear. Let your insurance company know immediately after the storm if you have an urgent need for help to stabilize your property. “In the event you need emergency services, such as removing water from your home, covering your roof, or boarding up windows or doors, many companies will dispatch an approved emergency services company to protect your home from further damage,” Worters says.

If the damage is so severe that your home is unlivable, your insurance company may cover expenses such as hotel rooms and restaurant meals. Check your policy or with your insurance agent to see if “additional living expenses” are covered in your homeowners’ insurance.

When do I get a settlement for my hurricane insurance claim?

Aerial view of the flooding in a neighborhood after a hurricane.
Credit: Getty Images / syahrir maulana

Hurricanes can be extremely damaging to entire neighborhoods, so it may take a while to get your claim settlement.

After assessing the damages to your home, the insurance adjuster will prepare an estimate and explain the settlement of your claim. Once agreed, you’ll be sent a check for the settlement amount, and you can begin rebuilding your home. How soon can you expect your claim to be settled? It may be a few weeks or more.

“Once a claim has been sent in, some states require insurers (to) acknowledge receipt of the claim within 15 days and then they have 30 days to accept or deny the claim,” Worters says.

What can I do if I don’t have hurricane insurance?

This is where government services from FEMA can help. FEMA’s primary after-hurricane services are here to help people who need a place to live and help with repairs to your home.

However, to apply for FEMA for disaster recovery, the president must first declare a major disaster for your state. To apply for individual assistance from FEMA, your county must be included in the disaster declaration.

“The FEMA Individual Assistance program is designed to help disaster survivors with basic, critical needs such as a safe, sanitary, and functional place to live while survivors look for a long-term or permanent housing solution,” Edwards says.

FEMA may provide money for temporary housing if you’re unable to live in your house, such as rental assistance or reimbursement for hotel costs. FEMA also may provide money for roof repairs and for making improvements that can safeguard your belongings in the future, such as elevating a water heater to avoid water damage from floods. “FEMA assistance differs from insurance in that it only provides the basic needs to make a home safe, sanitary, and functional,” Edwards says. “FEMA assistance does not make you whole again, but it can give you a helping hand to recover.”

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