Preparing For A Household Disaster
One of us has a son, Chris, who is a Boy Scout. Their motto is “be prepared.” Although they probably were not thinking of the subject of this column when they conceived of this credo, it is quite fitting.
Being prepared for the loss and chaos that surrounds a household disaster can, in many cases, make the difference between losing everything and just picking up the pieces. With the former, you are left with little of nothing whereas in the case of the latter you will be better able to rebuild your life (and your home) a piece at the time.
There are lots of ways to be prepared for a household disaster such as a fire, flood, tornado or earthquake. Start with insurance. According to insurance industry estimates, insurance companies pay more than $150 billion each year in claims from policyholders. These claims result from losses suffered during fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, robberies, auto accidents, dog bites falls and a host of other incidents.
Inadequate coverage or, worse yet, no insurance coverage at all could, in the event of a disaster, leave you penniless and without a home.
How much is enough? A better question would be how much are you willing to give up? If the answer is nothing, as it should be, your coverage should provide you with full replacement of your loss. Pennywise consumers will often compromise coverage in an effort to save money. Unfortunately, the savings of a few hundred dollars a year can mean the loss of tens of thousands of dollars when it comes time to collect from the insurance company.
Your best bet is to enlist the services of a reputable insurance agent who can discuss with you the coverage options available. For example, you can opt for a “replacement cost policy” which means the insurance company will pay the cost of replacing an item (less deductibles) rather than simply offering its depreciated current value.
A big part of “being prepared” is ensuring that you have a full inventory of the construction elements of your home and its contents. Take photographs or videotape of each room in the home along with its contents. Pay special attention to details such as appliances, doors, trim, cabinets, flooring, ceiling treatment and other decorative finishes. Also, be sure to open cabinet and closet doors to photograph contents such as dishes, clothing, hunting gear and even your video collection.
A room-by-room written inventory is essential. Start with a description of the construction elements of the room such as windows, doors, and cabinets and then its contents. Each stick of furniture, window coverings and electronic equipment such as televisions, video players, stereo systems and computers should be listed. It is especially important to include a brief description of each item including the brand, model, serial number, purchase price and date of purchase. Whenever possible, keep purchase receipts.
Although this information can be recorded using a pencil and a pad, if you have a computer, consider picking up home inventory software that can simplify the task and offer far better results. Many such products will suggest the amount of insurance coverage that you should have based on the information that is input.
Valuable items such as jewelry, furs, silver and fine art often will require separate or “scheduled property” coverage. This can mean a hefty premium, but is something that should definitely considered unless the items are kept in a safe deposit box or other safe location.
And speaking of safe deposit boxes, it’s the location that you will want to keep the photos, videotape and written inventory that you create. The last place that you want these items is in the home where they can be stolen in a burglary or damaged or destroyed in a fire, flood, hurricane or earthquake.
Keep in mind that insurance is not designed to pay for repairs due to negligence and poor home maintenance. Therefore, it is important to make frequent inspections of the roof, windows, doors, siding, foundation, basement and other construction elements to ensure that they are in good repair. An hour and a few dollars repairing a roof leak can prevent hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars in ceiling, wall and flooring damage down the road – the cost for which is NOT covered by most insurance policies. An ounce of prevention really can be worth a pound of cure.
Finally, should disaster strike, take care of yourself, your family and your pets. Be ready with a disaster plan. Your home and its contents are replaceable – your family isn’t. Don’t risk your life to save personal property. Although, you may loose precious photographs or momentos in a fire or a flood, no disaster can rob you of precious memories.
Chris and his Boy Scout Troop are right – “Be Prepared.”
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