In a disaster, how much insurance coverage is enough?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Being prepared for any weather-related emergency goes beyond having a cache of food, water and supplies in case of an earthquake or tornado.

Insurance experts will tell you being prepared means having enough insurance coverage on your property. Being prepared, they say, also means you have that information about your insured property easily accessible for your claims adjuster after an emergency.

Jim Lichtenegger, owner of Personal Insurance Agency in Cape Girardeau, says it's important to have enough coverage not only on real estate but also on personal property -- furniture, appliances, clothing, even food in the kitchen.

Lichtenegger advises homeowners and renters to go through the house or apartment and make a list of all items of value in the home and keep it up to date.

"Keep a copy at home, and some keep a copy in a place away from the residence," he said. "You could even give your agent a copy of the list."

Some people will videotape the inside of their homes as a way of making a record of what they own and what is covered under their homeowners policies. Then if a disaster hits, there will be at least one record somewhere proving your ownership of the items for which you will want to be reimbursed.

"Lots of people don't realize that if they have $100,000 worth of coverage on their policy, the insurance company does not automatically give them a check for $100,000," he said. "You have to come up with a list in most cases."

Lichtenegger says it's wise occasionally to go over the list of personal property items in the home and make sure it includes recent purchases. He suggests periodically reviewing that list with the insurance agent.

"Many people find out they don't have enough coverage for all the personal property they have," he said.

It isn't only homeowners who should have coverage, Lichtenegger said. Renters should also protect their personal property.

Missouri Department of Insurance agrees that property owners should keep a detailed inventory.

They should also keep copies of their insurance policies with their inventory lists, said Dale Finke of the Missouri Department of Insurance. In addition, he said, many insurance companies have packets of information that can guide policyholders through the recovery and claim process.

Policy holders should make only temporary changes to protect their property after it has been damaged, Finke said. If possible, he said, don't make any repairs until the insurance adjuster arrives. But if you have to, keep receipts for all materials and labor used in the repairs.

It's a matter of using common sense, Lichtenegger says. If a storm blows off a roof and another storm is coming, then it makes sense to fix the roof temporarily.

"The insurer is responsible for protecting his property," he said. "Most insurance companies, if there is a loss, will be in contact and will get people out there. It depends on the severity of the damage. "

To reach the Missouri Department of Insurance Consumer Services Hotline, call toll free 1-800-726-7390. Also, check out the brochure "Surviving Severe Weather," at

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