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After more than 80 tornadoes ravaged the Midwest and killed eight people on Sunday, homeowners will soon file insurance claims to begin the long process of piecing their lives back together.
Illinois seems to have been hit the hardest, with six storm-related fatalities, the Chicago Tribune reports. At least two EF-4 tornadoes, the second-strongest category, touched down in the central and southern parts of the state.
As tornado victims deal with their devastating losses, here are 10 tips to keep in mind when filing insurance claims for storm-related damages:
- Contact your insurance agent or company promptly. Keep a record of all contacts you have with your company. Be prepared to answer questions about the extent and severity of the damage.
- Document your damage. Make a list of items that were damaged by the tornado. Take photographs or videotape the damage if possible. Don't discard any damaged property until your insurance adjuster has had a chance to examine it.
- Make temporary repairs. To prevent further damage to your home, make reasonable and necessary temporary repairs. Don't make permanent repairs until your insurance company tells you to do so. Hang on to your receipts and document all expenses.
- Review your insurance policy. Unfortunately, it's becoming quite common for tornado insurance coverage to fall short of homeowners' repair expenses. Find out the type of insurance policy you have and the amount of insurance you purchased.
- Schedule permanent repairs. Though you should hold off on permanent repairs until your damage is assessed, schedule them as soon as possible, as appointments can fill up quickly.
- Beware of storm-repair scams. Don't rely on your insurance company to protect you from tornado-repair scams. Use local, licensed, bonded and insured contractors. Check references, get agreements in writing, and don't pay in advance.
- Don't expect free upgrades. Typically, insurance companies will only replace damaged items and materials of the same type and quality. Trying to replace fiberglass with expensive slate tile for free will only slow down your claims process.
- Be physically present. Try to be present when the insurance company's adjuster inspects the damage to your property.
- Ask about discounts. Find out from your insurance agent if you are eligible for discounts, additional living expenses (ALE), disaster tax deductions, or other forms of financial assistance because of the tornado.
- Speak with a claims professional. Never let a contractor interpret your insurance policy language. For extra guidance, consult a local insurance attorney who can explain those terms to you in plain English.
If your home is not insured, you may want to contact your local Red Cross or FEMA Disaster Recovery Center for assistance. Also, look into disaster loans.