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Having grown up in the northern tip of tornado alley, I’m always a little nervous this time of year. I know from experience that on any given day, the weather gods can reach down and rip your house apart. (Luckily, I didn’t live in a trailer, so I was safe.)
Now, I know the odds of a tornado striking the Washington area are pretty slim, but it has happened to deadly effect. And there are other disasters that can hit. Hopefully, you’ve got you emergency kit prepared and have planned for safely making it through a natural disaster.
But when the trouble has passed and everyone is safe, you must resist the temptation to run away from the scene to stay with relatives for a few weeks while you get yourself back together. The job of recovering from the disaster has just begun, and the sooner you get started dealing with the insurance company, the sooner you’ll get your check.
Here are eight steps that will help you clean up the financial mess of a disaster and get you back on track:
Also, check to see what your responsibilities are under the policy. You’ll find that information in the part of your homeowners policy entitled “Duties After a Loss.” Don’t take the naive attitude that your insurance company will take care of everything.
Check your property thoroughly as soon as possible. Inspect everything: basements, attics, backyard sheds. In particular, look carefully at the roof.
Even if it looks solid, search for any evidence of leakage. Check the foundation for cracks or erosion, even if you don’t have floodwater inside your house. Make sure that major systems like your furnace and air conditioner are working. Turn on all your appliances. Make a written list of any damage you find. It also is a good idea to corroborate any damages by taking photographs. If you have pre-damage pictures of your property and belongings, all the better. The before and after photographs can substantiate what property you lost or how strong a hit your home took.
While working to fix up the house, you may get visited by service companies offering to help. Don’t take it. Many of these “professionals” are scam artists. In addition, the services that many of these companies offer, such as tree removal after tornadoes or hurricanes, are usually performed free of charge by Federal Emergency Management Agency teams.
If all else fails, file a report with your state insurance department.
Mark Helm is a personal finance writer and financial planner. He can be reached at HelmFinancial@aol.com.