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What to expect from your insurance company after a burglary

No one wants to experience a home burglary, but you can minimize the inconvenience if you understand the terms of your home insurance policy and you’re prepared to provide your insurer with descriptions of all missing items.

You will need to file a police report to get the ball rolling on a theft claim. It is one of the first things your insurer will request. A claims adjuster may come to your home to assess your loss. The more information you can provide (such as receipts, photographs and appraisals that verify value) about stolen items,  the quicker the claims process will be, says Peter Moraga, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC).

after a burglary Having an updated home inventory list to work from is important, he says. Free home inventory software to help you make your list is available on the IINC website.

Once you create your inventory, make sure to keep it in a safe place outside your home, such as a safety-deposit box. You also can e-mail a copy to yourself to create an online record that can be accessed by computer.

Speeding up the process

Be sure to read your home insurance policy to understand the terms and limits of your coverage. It is important to find out whether claim payments for personal property losses will be based on replacement cost or actual cash value.

“There is no depreciation taken out of replacement costs,” Moraga explains. “With actual cash value, there is depreciation factored in, so you will get less.”

Also, it is important to be timely as you comply with requests from your insurance company. If your agent sends you documents to sign, do so immediately so that time is not wasted.

“Why does [the claims process] take so long?” asks Moraga. “Oftentimes it’s because people sit on this stuff.”

If you own a single-family home, remember the land it rests on is not at risk from burglary, fire, theft or other perils covered in your home policy. Your aim should be to pay for only enough coverage to replace your dwelling and its contents. Do not worry about your home’s value on the real estate market. You may need enough insurance money to rebuild your house, but you won’t need to buy a new one.

Insurance is a competitive field, so remember to choose an insurer that offers both a fair price and good service. See Insure.com’s list of best insurance companies for customer satisfaction ratings.

The time it takes for an insurer to pay a theft claim varies widely, says Moraga. It will depend, in part, on how many items were stolen and whether damage was done to your home.

“Sometimes there may be physical damage to the home, broken windows, doors, etcetera.,” he says. “Once the paperwork is turned in, the claims process takes as long as the company takes to go over it and determine the loss.”

In some cases, a check could arrive as early as within a week or two if there are no disputes, he adds.

Using a prepaid debit card

Some companies, such as Farmers Insurance, give customers a prepaid debit card to use for replacing stolen or damaged household items. The idea is to make it convenient to replace stolen goods on preselected shopping websites.

"It's pretty cool," says Paul Quinn, assistant vice president of claims for Farmers in Los Angeles. 

"We will give our customer a prepaid debit card that we load with the actual cash value of their claim and as they replace items, we will replenish the debit card. We also offer our customers a check but a prepaid debit card is easier and quicker. It’s one less step you have to take.”

In the wake of a burglary, many homeowners forget about their insurance deductible, Quinn says. If you have a $1,000 deductible, for example, you will be responsible for replacing the stolen items up to that amount.

Focus on prevention

Want to avoid making a burglary insurance claim altogether? Heather Petty, a retired detective who worked for the San Diego Police Department, has some advice for keeping burglars at bay:

To keep them guessing, suspend mail and newspaper deliveries or arrange to have these items picked up by a friend or neighbor when you are on vacation.

Anytime you leave your home, lock your doors and make sure all the windows are secured.

Do not leave a spare key under your mat or in your mailbox. Such “secret” places are known to experienced burglars.

Keep valuables, such as expensive jewelry, in a safety-deposit box.

Take your purse, wallet and laptop into your bedroom with you at night. Some burglars will avoid bedrooms if they think a home may be occupied.

Do not announce that you are not at home via social media. Here is more on why you should not tweet with burglars.

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