How to file a claim if your home was damaged in a fire

California is again facing a series of wildfires, with numerous large and small blazes burning throughout the state. Some Californians are being forced to evacuate their homes when fires get too close.

Being forced to flee from your home is difficult, but returning to a seriously damaged or destroyed home can be emotionally devastating. Beyond your big screen TV, you may have lost irreplaceable family heirlooms or treasured photos. The good news is that your homeowners' insurance should cover the damage to your home and the cost of replacing its contents. Here is how you should move forward with your insurance claim if your home was damaged in a fire.

Do an inventory

You will need to go through your home and create a list of everything that was damaged or destroyed. If you have pictures of your home before the fire, these might help jog your memory about the contents of your home. Try to give an estimate of the value of each item, if you can. Otherwise, the insurance company will likely assign a value to items. You may also want to take photos and video of your home to include with your claim.

Although you may be tempted to throw things away, hold off on doing so. Your insurance company will send an adjuster to your home who may want to see all your damaged property.

Make sure your home is secure

A severely damaged home may have missing windows or perhaps the firefighters had to cut holes through the walls. You will want to board up windows or use tarps to cover holes. Do all you can to prevent further damage to your property, and keep any potential looters away.

Keep receipts related to lodging and other expenses

If you had to evacuate your home, you may have stayed in a hotel. You could also have purchased clothing or other necessities to get by while you were away. Save all these receipts to submit to your insurance company. You should be reimbursed for reasonable expenses like these.

File a claim with your insurance company quickly

With a fire insurance claim, you need to reach out your insurance company right away. They will ask you to fill out a proof of loss claim. This is where your damage inventory will come in handy. Use this list to help fill out the proof of loss claim.

Keep a record of communication

Make sure you keep a record of all your communications with the insurance company. There will likely be a series of phone calls, emails and letters regarding your claim. Do not rely on the insurance company to document this communication. You want to make sure you have a record of all the information you provided them and how they responded.

Make sure you agree with the insurance company's adjuster

The insurance company will send out an adjuster to evaluate your home and the damage it received. The adjuster will then make an estimate of the value of your home and its content. Remember, the adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you. If you think their estimate is low, you can hire your own independent contractor. You will have to pay for this contractor on your own, but it may be worth it, if you think the insurance company's estimate is low.

Do not rush to close your claim

An insurance company may try to close your claim quickly. This may not be in your best interests. Perhaps they are pushing you to close your claim because they do not want you to realize their offer is too low. Or maybe there are some items you forgot to include in your insurance claim. You do not have to close your claim just because the insurance company is pushing you to do so.

If you suspect your insurance company is making a low offer or they are pressuring you to settle quickly, your insurance company may be acting in bad faith. You may want to reach out to an attorney experienced in negotiating with insurance companies. An attorney can evaluate your insurance claim and help you determine if your insurance company is acting in bad faith.

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