The Fire Insurance Claims Process: A Step by Step Review

The claims process is generally referred to as the time that a policyholder notifies his or her insurer of the occurrence until the problem has been fixed. Here's the basic process:

Reviewing your policy – what to look for and where to find it. The very first thing policyholders should do is review their insurance policy to determine how much and what type of coverage they have, what is covered, what is excluded and to determine how their claim must be filed and any deadlines that might apply. Much of this information can be found on the declaration's page of the policy which is usually located at the very beginning of the policy. If you can't locate your policy, contact your broker or insurance company immediately to obtain a copy.

When to contact your insurance company. You should contact your insurance company as soon as possible to notify them of the type of loss you've suffered. In fact, they may require you to contact them within a certain amount of time after a loss has occurred. Your policy will detail this information, including whether that notification must be in writing.

What information your insurance company will need to start the claims process. Your insurance company may require you to submit certain information / documentation to start the claims process. That generally consists of a statement from you on what happened and the extent of damage you suffered. They may require more and you, as a policyholder, have a duty to provide them with whatever information / documentation they need – as long as it is reasonable. Be thorough in all of your documentation as you won't be reimbursed for something that has not been documented.

What your insurance company should do. Once you've notified your insurance company of your loss and provided the information needed to start the claim, your insurer will generally assign the case to a claims representative who will analyze your policy to determine what type of policy you have, your policy limits, what is covered, what is excluded, your deductibles and any other information that might be needed.

Once completed, the claims rep will send you a letter that details that information. California law requires insurance companies to send that letter within 30 days after being notified of the loss. If you do not agree with your insurer's analysis of your policy, it's important to contact them immediately and resolve those issues.

When both parties are in agreement, the claims rep will either pay the claim or decide to investigate the claim depending on the size and circumstances surrounding the claim. If an investigator is hired, he or she will come to your home to do the investigation and will prepare a report for the insurance company detailing what they found. Assuming that the insurance company doesn't suspect fraud, a plan will be put in place to obtain cost estimates for rebuilding or repairing your home.

Payment process. Payment processes will differ depending on the type of loss you have. For a small loss, your insurer may simply write you a check. For a larger loss, your insurer may advance some of the costs needed to rebuild or repair your home throughout the process. It's important to ask your claims adjuster how the payment process will occur in your situation, and more importantly, to get that in writing.

A note of caution: Cash checks from your insurance company carefully. Make sure that you are not signing away any rights by cashing the check. If the check has a notation that it is 'payment in full' (when it isn't) or that by cashing the check, the policyholder waives any rights, don't cash it until you understand the consequences.

Time line. While the time line for every claim differs depending on the nature of the claim, most claims can generally be completed within a few months. That may not be the case with the Southern California fires as there is likely to be a shortage of investigators and adjusters. In extreme cases like this, the process could take several months. It's important to keep in close contact with your claims representative to make sure that your claim doesn't fall through the cracks and that you'll be able to get back into your home as soon as possible.

Fire Insurance Claim Manual for Homeowners

  1. Fire Insurance Claims Manual Forward
  2. The Basics of Homeowners' and Fire Insurance
  3. How Fire Insurance Policies Work
  4. The Fire Insurance Claims Process: A Step by Step Review
  5. Identifying and Overcoming Fire Insurance Claims Obstacles
  6. Tips to Make the Fire Insurance Claims Process Work Smoothly
  7. Fire Insurance Lawyer - How to Hire