5 tips for filing a successful insurance claim

1. Know your insurance policy

For auto insurance, make sure you understand the coverage limits, deductibles and whether or not you have collision coverage, Ward says.
For home insurance, make sure you also know your deductibles, and that you understand policy limits on not only structural damage but also on electronics, fur or jewelry that are in the home, he says.
Many home insurance policies cover only these items in limited amounts. So if you have expensive jewelry, collectibles or other similar items, talk to your agent about options for covering these items - and do so before a loss occurs.

2. Take pictures and gather manuals

Homeowners should have a visual inventory of all their property, says Carlos Gil, sales and marketing manager for Fiesta Insurance Franchise Corp., an insurance agency franchisor in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Creating a visual inventory means taking several pictures or making a video of the inside of your home to document what you own, he says.
In addition to collecting pictures, gather documents, such as owner manuals, that go along with electronic equipment and other valuables. This documentation can serve as proof of ownership to the insurance company, Ward says.
If your belongings are destroyed, but you have proof that you owned them, your insurance company may approve a claim much faster than if you don't have proof.
Again, remember to gather your proof of ownership long before a thief even thinks about stealing that treasured china set.

3. Collect information at the scene

Policyholders often make the crucial mistake of not gathering enough information at the time of an auto accident or catastrophic loss at home, Gil says.
For auto accidents, immediately note the time and location of the wreck, and the other party's vehicle information and car insurance information, Gil says.
If you can safely take a photograph of the autos involved in the wreck - particularly the license plate of the other vehicle - try to snap pictures, Ward says. That way, you'll have identifying information if the other party decides to drive off before police arrive.
If you are a homeowner who experiences a loss, promptly call your insurance company and describe what happened, Ward says. Take pictures of the damage if you can, he adds.
Collecting this information, even if it seems trivial, can help the insurance company understand what happened so it can quickly process claims for losses, Ward says.

4. File your insurance claim quickly

Some policyholders wait before notifying their insurance company of a problem, Ward says. When that happens, memories fade and the policyholder may leave out important details. This could result in claim delays.
"Most carriers have 24/7/365 continuous claim reporting capabilities, so make sure to contact them as soon as possible," Ward says.
Even if a loss happens over the weekend, the insurer may send someone over to review the claim quickly, he says.

5. Respond to follow-up questions

Sometimes an insurance company asks you to send in additional paperwork before a claim can be fully processed, Ward says. Examples of such documentation include:
  • An inventory list of your damaged personal property
  • A certificate showing your vehicle has been repaired after an accident
  • A power of attorney, if you have to take over the affairs of someone who is physically unable to communicate with the insurance company.
Return the paperwork quickly to avoid delays.
By Margarette Burnette

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