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Wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods... every part of the country is susceptible to disaster; every one of us is vulnerable to natural (and human-instigated) phenomena. Plenty of disasters await kossacks, and some are in process right now. Climate change issues are likely to make these worse in the future.

Keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe is the highest priority for most of us, but these events also can lead to severe financial hardship. What can you do NOW to mitigate your financial harm when disaster strikes? INSURE. Know what your insurance covers. And be prepared to make a valid and complete claim by having an inventory of your stuff.

Anyone who owns a home (with or without mortgage) and anyone who rents (or stays rent-free with someone) should have insurance to reduce financial losses in a disaster.

Two Purposes of Homeowners' and Renters' Insurance

Two primary purposes of homeowners' and renters' insurance are to protect you from liability claims and to protect you from actual property losses.

Liability, when discussing insurance, is the legal responsibility to pay someone else for damages as a result of your actions or inaction. If you do not repair your sidewalk and a pedestrian trips, breaking her hip, you may be liable for the cost of her medical treatment. A renter may have liability, also. For example, if a renter turns down the thermostat too far over a winter vacation, and the pipes freeze and burst, the renter may be liable to the landlord to pay for damages. Both homeowners and renters need insurance, if only to protect them against liability claims.

Property insurance is the portion of your policy that covers losses due to damage or theft. You may experience actual physical losses of property or the use of your property, due to disaster.

I want to be very clear: I am not talking about insurance coverage of any business equipment, business malpractice, or business loss-of-revenue due to interruption of business activity. Please talk to your insurance agent about these concerns, as they likely fall outside the personal insurance I am discussing.

Some losses are not covered under typical homeowners' policies. Flood, earthquake, and mold damage are not, generally, and require specific insurance, separate from the homeowners (or renters) policy.

From the National Flood Insurance Program note that

In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to help provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves. The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP. Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding.
In addition, if you are eligible for flood insurance and wish to obtain it
It takes 30 days after purchase for a policy to take effect, so it's important to buy insurance before the floodwaters start to rise.
Make sure you don't wait until the water is rising. It's just too late then. Similarly, this article from the Durango Herald noted homeowners can't add insurance as the wildfires burn.

In addition, some household assets may need supplemental insurance for full coverage. For example, your valuable jewelry, musical instruments, computer or other electronic equipment, may need a rider or supplemental policy. Talk to your insurance agent to make sure you know what is covered under your policy, and whether you need additional coverage.

If You Need to Make a Claim

If disaster strikes and you need to make a claim due to property losses, you MUST know what is lost to submit a complete claim. That may not be easy for most of us, as we'd have trouble listing all the items in our home. For example, think of the cupboard closest to your stove. Can you list every item in the cupboard from memory? Can you list every item in your hall closet from memory? Probably not.

Virtually every property insurance company recommends creating an inventory of assets, and many provide worksheets, spreadsheets, and other devices to do so. The task, though, would overwhelm many people, as even the least acquisitive of us typically own thousands of items.

Instead, inventory the simple way. You'll at least have a help in remembering what you own. Just use a camera, phone with camera, or videocamera and make sure you take images of every room, all walls, and inside each drawer, cabinet, cupboard, and closet. If there are items of special value, such as antiques or high-end electronics, take close-ups of them. If you have receipts for valuable items, also create digital images of those. Though it's still a time-consuming task, it gives you a huge boost in your ability to remember and claim all that was lost.

Then STORE those images away from your home. These days the easiest way to do that is to upload them to a photo service, or even email them to yourself.

If you lose use of your property and need to stay elsewhere for a period of time, keep all receipts for lodging to provide documentation for your claim. Also save receipts for repair, clean-up, and replacement costs. Your insurance agent will want copies of all of these to process your claims.

I hope none of us experience losses due to natural or man-made disasters. The probability is high, though, that many of us will. Please be prepared. INSURE. Know what your insurance covers. And be prepared to make a valid and complete claim by having an inventory of your stuff.


Note that state insurance laws vary. Please discuss your concerns and coverage with your insurance agent to optimize the value you get from the policies you buy.

Originally posted to Melanie in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 05:50 PM PDT.

Also republished by Jim & Melanie in IA and Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent suggestions! (8+ / 0-)

    We were in the path of possible floods where we used to live. When the river started to rise one year, we looked around and vainly tried to think of what we would throw in the car if we needed to evacuate in a hurry.  Thank goodness, we didn't get evacuated. That was back when we rented a tiny little duplex. I shudder to imagine the task now that we own a much bigger house full of stuff we've inherited from deceased relatives, etc.

    I better start pointing my camera at some of our stuff, not just the kid and pets, I guess!  Heh.

    "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

    by koosah on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 06:11:07 PM PDT

    •  It doesn't take very long to at least (7+ / 0-)

      do a cursory review. Being more complete (completely complete!) of course will take more time and care. But ANY evidence you have that will allow you to make a better claim is good.

      Tell the people you love that you love them when you can. You don't always get another chance.

      by Melanie in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 06:23:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Put together a "bug out" bag, too (8+ / 0-)

      There's an excellent series on disaster-preparedness that was originally written by AlphaGeek and has been republished by Seneca Doane.

      But you don't have to do everything at once ... even if you've got just a small tote bag prepped and ready to grab as you go out the door and head for safety, you'll be much less stressed.

      For example ... do you wear eyeglasses or contacts?  Make sure you stash your previous pair of glasses (or an extra set of contacts) in your bug-out bag.  Have infants or small children? Drop in some extra diapers, binkies, or whatever else the kids will need (or desperately want) if you have to skedaddle.  A change of clothing isn't absolutely necessary, but personally I feel that at least one change of underwear and a packet of baby wipes is key in case a shower or bath won't be possible in the near future.

      Put scans of important docs (e.g., driver's license, insurance policies) and irreplaceable photos on a USB thumbdrive and drop that into the bag, too.  A flashlight and a multitool (like a Swiss Army knife) are frequently useful.  And I find that a basic first-aid kit is always handy -- Band-Aids, ibuprofen, antihistamines, tampons, that sort of thing.

      Only you know what you'll find essential if you have to bug out ... but right now, you have the luxury of thinking about it ahead of time and getting ready when you're not already in crisis mode.

      "Specialization is for insects." -- Heinlein

      by BachFan on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 07:26:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Melanie, I have been working on this (6+ / 0-)

    inventory already - it's great advice. When disaster strikes, there is so much to deal with, this one step can take one task off your "to do" list.

    I want to out in a plug for flood insurance also. Many people think "I don't live near the coast/a river/ a lake..." but urban flooding, suburban flooding, or rapid snowmelt and a host of other events can result in flooding. For a few hundred dollars, you can obtain flood insurance coverage.

    When you move to a new area, check what coverages you might need. When I moved from NH to TX, I added "slab insurance" and "wind insurance". Be sure you understand deductibles. In TX, the homeowner's insurance deductible can be 2% of your home's value. That is far more than many people have on hand.

    Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

    by cassandracarolina on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 06:27:00 PM PDT

    •  Thanks, cassandracarolina. (5+ / 0-)

      Yes, deductibles are key, as they are part of what defines coverage. I think my homeowners' policy has a 5% of value deductible, which helps lower our premiums. Still, one must be able to afford the trade-off between premiums and deductibles.

      AND YES each state will have variations on standard coverage. As I said (several times!) check with your agent to make sure you understand what is covered AND what is not.

      Thanks again.

      Tell the people you love that you love them when you can. You don't always get another chance.

      by Melanie in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 06:34:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  One of my brothers-in-law is (8+ / 0-)

      an insurance agent. He says one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is when they avoid updating their coverage. It doesn't take many years for your coverage to become insufficient, especially if you do even a modest amount of home improvement and typical updates.  Things like enlarging your deck, adding a patio cover, getting a better bathroom vanity, all add to the value of your house AND increase your need for more coverage.

      "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

      by koosah on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 06:53:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There are locations where it's not needed. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Melanie in IA

      For example, our house on a hill was once flooded by a rapid snowmelt on saturated ground.  That's water coming DOWN a hill, not UP a hill, so it wouldn't be covered under any kind of insurance.

      Another important local insurance is EARTHQUAKE.  Unless you can absorb the loss of your home, and if you live in a shakey area, you should tighten the belts and get earthquake coverage.

      Start setting aside a special account with enough to cover most of your deductibles on important items like your home and car.  Some folks in Colorado are going to be hit with all their deductibles at once, even medical if they had smoke inhalation.

      •  That's right. (0+ / 0-)

        I noted above that earthquake insurance is separate, and yes, if you live in earthquake territory, you likely need insurance for it.

        Thanks for your comments.

        Tell the people you love that you love them when you can. You don't always get another chance.

        by Melanie in IA on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 02:55:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Don't count on not being in earthquake (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Melanie in IA

        territory.  A lot of people thought DC wasn't earthquake territory, until the quake last year in VA.  Only tall buildings like the cathedral and washington monument were really damaged, but a little nearer or stronger and it could have been a lot of homes too.  And of course none of the buildings are constructed in anticipation of earthquakes.

        I remembered walking near the Potomac river with my dad, who was a pretty enthusiastic amateur geologist, and him pointing out where you could see the old faults in the rocks.  Some of them showing "slips" in the 2-3 foot range.
        So I always thought earthquake insurance was a pretty good idea.

        Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

        by barbwires on Thu Jun 28, 2012 at 08:30:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  If you are building a house, you will need (5+ / 0-)

    homeowner's insurance during construction, updated for when you move in your belongings (and your family). This is in addition to coverage your builder has to carry to protect himself and his crew.

    Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

    by cassandracarolina on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 07:04:25 PM PDT

  •  We have gone around and documented our stuff. (4+ / 0-)

    It is probably time we did it again to update the records.

    Universe started with a Big Bang. It's big, getting bigger, and mostly dark.

    by jim in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 07:07:29 PM PDT

  •  You may need a separate policy for some items (6+ / 0-)

    I just discovered (too late), that my musical instrument which was damaged leaving a rehearsal was not covered by my homeowners insurance for damage even though I specifically talked to the agent about needing it covered and had a significant amount of contents declared compared to the value of the house.

    If you use an instrument or tools and make any money using them outside the house, you will need to get a commercial policy.  These commercial policies are specific per trade and will cover loss and damage that homeowners policies will not cover.

    •  Great point. (4+ / 0-)

      Thanks for chiming in.

      During the flood of 2008 here, our music and art buildings at University of Iowa were destroyed, of course along with students' instruments and portfolios. As students, they may or may not have been covered under parents' policies, but as you say, if they were working artists, they likely needed separate insurance.

      Tell the people you love that you love them when you can. You don't always get another chance.

      by Melanie in IA on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 07:45:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  George Carlin inventoried his stuff.... (4+ / 0-)


  •  I still need to get batteries for my flashlights (4+ / 0-)

    Yeah, i have one of those battery-less ones, but i dropped it once and it's busted. Maybe i should get another one of those, too.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants. I really ought to sit down and do a serious inventory of everything.

    All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

    by subtropolis on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 09:23:21 PM PDT

  •  I'm pretty well prepared (4+ / 0-)

    for disasters like a tornado etc. (was a huge AlphaGeek fan!) in terms of survival but I don't have an inventory of my stuff. It always seemed like a daunting, depressing task.

    Your suggestion of starting with photos is doable, thanks for the suggestion.

    I used to joke that there is only one valuable item in my house, a small table in the foyer handed down from my grandmother, restored birds-eye maple. Since it sits right by the front door, all I have to do to evacuate is pop the kitties into their carriers, grab the little table and my emergency kit, and we're off.
    However, the "value" of that item is nothing compared to the sum of all the other things that make up our life. It would be shocking to lose everything. Yet, it's only stuff.

    ~On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Raise her glowing flame!~ I am proud to say three generations of my family lived in WI. Though I live elsewhere, am with you in spirit!

    by sillia on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 07:54:14 AM PDT

    •  "Yet, it's only stuff." (4+ / 0-)

      Yes. I look around and see very few things in my home that have sentimental value, very few things that I would be sad to lose, or that I would lament if I had to live in a much smaller home and down-size significantly. But the sum total dollar value of all the stuff is large, if you had to replace it. It's worth the few minutes to document it.

      Thanks for the comments.

      Tell the people you love that you love them when you can. You don't always get another chance.

      by Melanie in IA on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 08:41:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There might be some things (5+ / 0-)

        like photograph albums, you'd be more sad to lose than a person might think. HOWEVER, I have often fantasized about disposing of all my belongings...the stuff is a burden in many ways.

        Just one silly example. My huband and I both have a lot of books. We used to both read sci-fi and have shelves and shelves and shelves of paperback sci-fi novels. I doubt if I will read most of those again, though occasionally I do read one and my husband does somewhat more often. So we don't really NEED these, and they take up space. Yet I don't know if we'll ever get around to clearing them out, it's sort of hard to part with books.

        However if they disappeared (stolen, burned, tornadoed, soaked, etc.) I wouldn't feel sorry, I'd feel relieved.

        ~On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Raise her glowing flame!~ I am proud to say three generations of my family lived in WI. Though I live elsewhere, am with you in spirit!

        by sillia on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 11:45:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great minds! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Melanie in IA, jim in IA

    I suppose the wildlfires and hurricanes are on everyone's mind a bit.

    All knowledge is worth having.

    by Noddy on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 12:15:11 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for this timely diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Melanie in IA, sillia, barbwires

    These things should come before any other expenditures, and become second nature.  I believe that high school kids need this knowledge as much as sex-ed.

    Life Insurance is such a great bargain for young families but few of them have it.  So many tragic and unexpected losses of parents leave families financially destitute for the rest of their lives, all for want of a policy.  Anyone with a dependent needs it, unless their lifestyle can be maintained on massive wealth alone.  

    •  Yes. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sillia, barbwires

      Life insurance is one of many types of insurance that I think are important. (And NO I'm not now nor have ever been an insurance agent!) But ANY financial loss that a person can't afford should be insured if possible. And if the bad circumstance does NOT create a significant financial loss, it should likewise NOT be insured. Too many people are willing to spend $300 on an extended warranty for a computer but would not consider spending the same dollars for an umbrella (personal liability) policy. The potential losses due to liability are a portion of all your assets and all your income for years to come. The computer? meh...

      THANKS for stopping. It's an important topic, for sure.

      Tell the people you love that you love them when you can. You don't always get another chance.

      by Melanie in IA on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 03:19:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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