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How to Prepare to Process Personal Property Loss Claims

Updated: Apr 30

destruction from tornado, houses destroyed
Sulphur, OK April 28, 2024

This past weekend, a severe storm system rampaged across the Midwest. Multiple tornadoes hit the area, some on the ground for an hour. Four people, including an infant, were killed, and hundreds injured. "You just can't believe the destruction," said Oklahoma's Governor Kevin Stitt. "It seems like every business downtown (Sulphur) has been destroyed." Homes and towns were flattened in multiple states.

Over the years, we have discussed how to prepare for such disasters, but one caveat when it comes to severe weather, fires or earthquakes, is the risk of not only your preps, but everything you own being lost. Sure, you may have insurance, but receiving your compensation involves a lot more than calling your carrier and waiting for your check.

I want to share what I learned about how to make sure you can recover what you are entitled to from your insurance company if you ever suffer the loss of some or all of your personal property, be it from fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, or any similarly covered disaster. Having gone through this experience myself, I wish I had this knowledge before I needed it.

My philosophy in emergency preparedness has always been to learn what you can before life becomes difficult. For example, I learned how to grow and hunt for food, and store it long term before I had to. I would hate to think how hard it would be to learn how to field dress, butcher and process game when my family is hungry; waiting to learn skills when you are already under pressure is counterproductive and only adds to a stressful situation. My focus here will be to help you have a strategy already in place, so the information you need is readily available should you ever have to recover from a total loss scenario.

There are a few points you will need to understand if you ever have to file an insurance claim for property loss.

  1. The amount of coverage may not equal the total payout.

  2. You and your insurance company will likely have different opinions about the value of the lost property. Some items, such as valuable jewelry, won't be covered unless scheduled separately after an appraisal. Cash for us was limited to $200, which I did not find unreasonable. But preppers typically keep more on hand, so keep this in mind, and try to store it in a fire-resistant location or safe.

  3. You will have to make specific claims for each item. For property such as clothing, my adjustor informed me it would be fine to give an estimate on what I had, such as 10 pairs of pants, 5 jackets, etc. Same with hygiene and make up products.

  4. The value of your property may be reduced by a certain percentage for every year of its age.

  5. Be prepared to state the age and condition of the items lost.

Know the specifics of your policy; there is a difference between "actual cash value" and "replacement cost." When you have the former, the devaluation will take effect. In the latter, the company is obligated to reimburse you for your personal items at today's prices, with zero depreciation. The actual cash value option is popular because it lowers premiums. Consider what you have, its age and condition and weigh the costs and benefits of both options.

My adjustors were amazing and treated me with kindness and compassion. My property adjustor suggested how I could commence tackling the daunting task of processing my claim. I started by categorizing the items: kitchen, electronics, clothing, furniture, and food. Then I went room by room, family members' losses, etc. I had a spiral notebook and just kept writing down everything I could think of. Next, I had to document what I had. I was stumped. As if shaking off the fog of a blow to the head or a night without sleep, I began to focus.

I had an extensive book collection, the majority of which I purchased through Amazon. Because of my remote location, I had also acquired many other items from the company, so I created a category simply titled, "Amazon" and used my purchase history to list lost items going back to 2010. This was extremely helpful and was certainly a benefit I never anticipated when making these purchases. I had taken pictures of parts of my book collection, which included books that I had acquired elsewhere. I searched Amazon to determine their value.

Another bonus was that I had an abundancy of photographic images of my other belongings, thanks to my preparedness page on social media and promotional videos for my books. It's hard to convince someone you had as much food stored as I did, but I had plenty of photos from my pantry, as well as images and videos showing me processing meats, canning, dehydrating and freeze-drying foods, and also the equipment I used to do so. Huge win!

I had a pretty good idea of how much food I had and went online to find comparable items and provided the links so my adjustor could calculate my losses. Wild game may not be available online, but farm-raised elk and other types of venison are, so I found links for ground game, steaks, etc. The best part was that since the overwhelming majority of my food supply was long-term, it did not lose any of its value. Another badly needed morale booster.

Photos from inside my home also revealed my furniture, and because my home was uncluttered, the good condition was easy to see. Artwork, family photos, area rugs, my China hutch and other furniture were all clearly visible. This was purely happenstance, but I realized how important it is to take the opportunity to gather this information before you suffer a loss.

So, here's my advice: go through your entire home, garage and any other storage space and take pictures. Make sure the lighting is good. Stand in the middle of the room and take a picture in each direction, starting from the ingress into the area. Make sure the space is uncluttered so nothing is missed, and it will certainly make a better impression if you ever need to use these images in the event of a loss. I'm not saying you should create a false impression if you are generally untidy, but cleaning up your living space has numerous additional advantages.

If you have a collection of artwork or family photos hanging on the walls, take pictures of them. While you will not be compensated for the sentimental value of these treasures, you will at least recover the value of the frames and prints. If a piece of art has significant value, get it appraised and scheduled if you expect it to be covered.

Record a video of a walk-through of your home. If you are taking pictures anyway, it can give adjustors an overall first visual of the condition of the home and what you have. It will also show them that you have taken care to prepare and that you have done what you could to be responsible and take proper care of your belongings.

As I rebuild, I am keeping a record of my purchases, and will maintain records of furniture, appliances, kitchen supplies, clothing, pretty much everything from the beginning. I hope I will never ever need it, but knowing I have done so will help me rest easier.

Finally, establish a positive working relationship with your adjustor. I was very fortunate as mine set the tone with compassion and empathy from our first conversation. Remember, these people have a job to do, and being kind and respectful will make the process much easier.

I hope you found this article helpful. I also hope that using these suggestions gives you peace of mind and that you never have to actually use them.

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