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What to do after a disaster if you are insured

By Isabelle Ladouceur-Séguin|8 min|November 2021

If you have had a fire, flood or any other disaster, here are the steps to take with your insurer.

After a disaster, making a claim to your insurer can be stressful. But now is not the time to be hasty! The slightest mistake can cost you, so it's best to take your time and do your homework.

This article describes the main steps to follow in order to claim your home insurance coverage. It also gives you tips on how to get the most out of your coverage.

Keep in mind, however, that each case is unique. Yours may vary slightly from what is described here.

Step 1: Call your insurance company

As soon as possible, call your insurance company or broker. Explain the situation in as much detail as possible. Then, see if your insurer can send an emergency cleaning company to your home. If so, you have the right to set a maximum amount for the cleanup.

Step 2: Limit the damage

If the disaster is likely to cause more damage, your insurance policy requires you to do everything you can to limit it. For example, if there is water damage, do what you can to dry it out and prevent mold.

If you need help and can't reach your insurer, call an emergency cleaning company yourself. If you have to dispose of items, photograph them first. This will help you claim them as losses.

Caution: In the event of a fire, you must wait for permission from the fire department before entering your home.

Step 3: Protect your home

If necessary, carry out temporary construction work to protect your home. You can hire disaster restoration workers to do this.

Caution: Do not make permanent repairs without first informing your insurer.

Your insurer can also send a disaster repair company to your home. In this case, find out:

  • What work they will do. Make sure they are covered by your insurance policy. If any materials need to be replaced or demolished, keep a sample of each. This will make it easier to file your claim.
  • The cost of the services. Your insurance policy only covers you up to a certain amount. To avoid exceeding it and having to pay the difference yourself, always check the costs before authorizing any work.

If possible, try to keep a paper trail of all the steps you take. This should be done throughout the claims process. For example, every time you call your insurer or a service provider, follow up with an email. In your message, summarize what you have agreed upon. This helps prevent misunderstandings.

Step 4: Consult your claims adjuster as soon as possible

Your insurer assigns a claims adjuster to you. His or her role is to guide you through the claims process. He or she will:

  • investigate what caused the loss
  • validate the coverage included in your insurance contract
  • examine the relevant documents (police report, inventory of stolen or damaged goods, etc.)
  • receive your statement and those of witnesses, if any
  • estimate the damage and losses you have suffered
  • settle the claim

That said, you may also decide to use a 'public' claims adjuster. In this case, you hire them at your own expense. Unlike your insurer's adjuster, the public adjuster cannot settle your claim. However, he or she can :

  • Negotiate with your insurer's adjuster on your behalf.
  • Perform tasks that your insurer's adjuster does not. For example, make an inventory of your belongings (see Step 5).

Step 5: Make an inventory of your belongings

You are responsible for proving your losses to your insurer. To do this, you must make a complete inventory. And do so with as much evidence as possible. For example:

  • Photos
  • Invoices
  • Manufacturer's warranty certificate

You can make your inventory at the beginning of the claim process. The claim documents the following:

  • the losses you have suffered
  • the expenses you have incurred

Based on your claim, the claims adjuster calculates the settlement offer. This is the amount offered to compensate you. It is based on the coverage, limits and exclusions outlined in your insurance contract.

Read the settlement offer carefully to see if you are comfortable with it. If not, you can negotiate it with your adjuster. Once the offer is accepted, the adjuster settles the claim. The insurer may then pay the service providers directly or reimburse you if you have advanced funds.

Caution: Be sure to tell your insurer if you are satisfied with the work before they pay for any services.

Step 6: Find temporary housing

If you have to leave your home during construction work, you need to look for temporary housing. And it doesn't have to be a hotel room! These days, disaster victims have access to fully furnished and equipped housing tailored to their needs.

That said, before you incur any relocation costs, make sure your insurer considers your home uninhabitable. Otherwise, they may refuse to reimburse you. Usually, a property is considered uninhabitable if there is no accessible bathroom or no place to sleep on site, for example.

Finding a temporary home after a disaster: tips and tricks

Step 7: Choose a contractor

Once you have confirmed your coverage with your claims adjuster, it is time to choose a contractor. This is the person who will do the repair or reconstruction work at your home.

Your insurer may suggest a contractor with whom it has an agreement. However, you should know that the final choice is yours.

Once you have made your decision, ask the contractor for an estimate. Then, check to see if the costs and deadlines are realistic. Also, confirm with your claims adjuster that the amounts are consistent with your insurance coverage. Once you have agreed on the terms of the settlement, you can authorize the work.

Note that you can also choose to do the work yourself. In this case, inform your insurer before you start. You will also need to provide your insurer with a cost estimate and have it approved before the work begins.

Above all, take care of yourself

A disaster is a hard thing to go through. You may have to deal with the loss of precious memories or even your home. It's normal to feel discouraged by the magnitude of the claims process.

But you are not alone! Your claims adjuster, your loved ones and others are there to help you. Feel free to turn to them if you need help.

Good luck!

Useful resources

Chambre de l'assurance dommages: Step by Step: What to Do When a Loss Occurs

Canadian Red Cross: Quebec Emergency and Disaster Services

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