The Caldor Fire, Hurricane Ida and numerous other climate events should serve as a wake-up call to all of us — everyone should claw through their files to review their homeowners and rental insurance policies. I published a lot of this information after previous storms but have updated it and divided it into what you should do before and after a disaster.


  • Locate your property and casualty insurance policies. If you have physical contracts, ask the company or agent for a digital version that you can access easily from anyone's computer. While you're at it, do the same for all your estate or other important documents, in case you need to access them and you are out of your home for a while.
  • Know what's in the policy. Most insurance policies cover structural and water damage in limited circumstances, like when a falling tree knocks a hole in a roof or breaks a window, allowing rain to fall inside. The majority do not cover damage that results from rising water unless the homeowner lives in a designated flood zone and has purchased insurance through the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Take photos, while the weather is clear. Given the increase in climate events, take a set of photos of your home and maintain a list of its contents. Doing so makes the process of filing future insurance claims a lot easier.


  • Take photos and list damaged or lost items. The list should include the date of purchase, value and receipts, if possible.
  • Report the claim quickly. Insurance companies usually respond on a first-come, first-served basis. Once you've reported, be sure to get your claim number and write it down.
  • Avoid making permanent repairs. If you need to make temporary repairs to prevent further damage to your property, inform the insurance company. But don't do anything big until the insurance company has inspected the property and you have agreed on the cost of repairs.
  • Meet with the adjuster. The insurance company will send either one of its own adjusters, or an independent one, who will survey the damage. Be sure to ask if the adjuster is authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of the company. If the adjuster is independent, ask for the name of the in-house company adjuster who will review your information.
  • Don't be hasty with the first offer. All settlement offers from insurance companies can be negotiated, so don't go nuts when you first review the adjuster's written assessment of the damage. Additionally, avoid cashing or depositing the insurance company's check until you review the full report and agree with all items and costs. Adjusters should account for regional differences in the cost of materials and contractors, but if they don't, make a case for a higher amount. If you see a problem, return the first check and request that the adjuster revise the report, then request a check from the insurance company for the correct cost of the damage.
  • Be careful with contractors. Whether you use an insurance company's approved contractor or hire your own, be sure to secure references and evidence of insurance.
  • Create a paper trail. In addition to calling, register all complaints in writing — the more specific, the better. If problems persist, contact your state's insurance commissioner. Keep working the process-it can take patience and persistence, but ultimately, you must be your own advocate.
  • Keep track of Uncle Sam's Help. will provide details about direct government support for victims and the Internal Revenue Service provides guidance and updates for disaster victims.

Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. She welcomes comments and questions at

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