A Home Inventory Can Help You before and after a Disaster

If disaster struck, could you recall every item you own? And what you paid for it?

After a fire or a flood, a complete home inventory will help you verify your losses and settle insurance claims faster. It can also help you and your agent determine how much insurance you need. To prepare an up-to-date home inventory, follow these easy steps:

List it: Make a list of all your possessions. Walk from room to room, noting what each space contains. Include basic information such as the make and model and the cost. For major appliances, record the serial numbers. Don’t forget any items you have stored outside or off-site.

Document it: Keep sales receipts, contracts, and appraisals with your list. As you purchase new items, be sure to add them to this inventory. To stay organized, you may want to create an envelope system to group receipts based on type of item. Be sure to store your inventory and all receipts in a fire-safe box or in a safe deposit box to ensure it’s available after a disaster.

Picture it: For a thorough record of your belongings, take pictures. Capture entire rooms and/or individual big-ticket items. You may also want to shoot a video of your inventory. Walk through your home and describe the contents as you record them. These photos and videos can be extremely helpful when making an insurance claim.

Your insurance agent can be a great source of help when you’re creating your home inventory by providing tips, recommending inventory apps, and - most important - offering advice on the right coverage.

How to Enjoy a Claim-Free Holiday Season

No one puts “insurance claim” on their holiday wish list. Most would rate this item right below a lump of coal. Yet, due to a lack of safety measures, this is what many people get.

Accidents and fires related to decorations are fairly common during the holiday season, but they are avoidable with the proper precautions. Avoid holiday hazards and enjoy a claim-free season with these tips:

Trim the tree with care: Will you be using a real tree? Keep it stable and hydrated with a large, non-tipping tree stand that holds water. Place the tree away from heating ducts, doorways, and busy areas. Well-placed and well-watered, your tree will stay fire- and accident-free for the season.

Keep your cords nice, not naughty: Exercise caution when working with electricity. Don’t overload your outlets. Use extension cords sparingly. Check flickering lights. Immediately replace those with loose connections or corroded sockets.

Be cautious with candles: Candles add ambiance and appeal to your space, but they can also cause devastation. Keep them away from flammable materials. Never leave them burning unattended. If you don’t want to worry about extinguishing candles before leaving or going to bed, consider using the flameless ones this year.

Don’t fall for outdoor lighting: Yes, your roofline may look great with perfectly strung lights, but don’t risk your life to get them up there. Use proper safety measures and products designed for outdoor use.

Take the time to do décor right. Be happy, healthy, and, most of all, wise this holiday season.

Understanding the Legal Limitations of Liability Claims

Operating a business in our litigious society involves risk. A lost lawsuit can cripple or even bankrupt a company. If a product is deemed unsafe, the manufacturer’s reputation, as well as its finances, are at stake.

Liability coverage

There is insurance coverage available to protect your company. And there are also legal limitations to consumer lawsuits. Obtaining the right insurance coverage, plus having a good understanding of the law, can give you a big edge.

However, don’t rely solely on an understanding of the law. First and foremost, ensure your company is covered. You can’t predict when a lawsuit will occur, and even cases that are dismissed can result in costly legal fees. It’s essential to always have the right liability insurance for your company.

Legal limitations

Legally, consumers have a limited time in which to file a liability claim under the statute of limitations. This varies by state. All states allow at least one year to file, and many have two-year limits. Some provide three years, but few set it higher than four years.

The statute of limitations kicks in when the injury occurs or when the injured person discovers the injury, depending on state law. Some states impose “statutes of repose” that establish a second deadline for discovery.

The law, however, can’t protect you from being sued. So, if you offer products or services to the public, consult with my office; we can help you obtain the exact coverage you need. Fortunately, there’s no statute of limitations on good advice.

Guess Which Holiday Tops the Fire Claims List?

That’s right. Thanksgiving is the number one fire insurance claim day; claims are typically twice that of any other day in November.

Most Thanksgiving fires boil down to cooking error; unattended stovetops and grease fires top the list. But there is good news: most of these fires are preventable, and all of them can be covered by insurance. To create a safe atmosphere for your holiday gathering, take the following steps:

Don’t get distracted: Many Thanksgiving Day fires occur because the cooks get distracted. Family time, football, and festivities pull them away from the kitchen, and the unattended food goes up in flames. Keep a close eye on anything currently “under fire.”

Put a lid on it: If you experience a grease fire, don’t try to put it out with water. While cooking, keep a lid nearby to smother the fire. Slide the lid over the pan, and turn off the element.

Don’t try to fry: Many hosts want to impress their guests with a deep-fried turkey. It might taste good, but it may not be worth the risky process. If you do go this route, fry the turkey outdoors, away from buildings and trees; carefully determine how much oil you need; and never leave it unattended.

Insure your holiday: Homeowners insurance typically covers your home and its contents if they are damaged by fire. If you aren’t sure what your policy covers, or what the limits are, now’s a good time to review your policy with my office

And have a safe Thanksgiving!

‘I Only Sell Online. Why Do I Need Insurance?’

There’s an easy - and important - answer to this question. The truth is, online entrepreneurs need protection just as much as traditional brick-and-mortar (B&M) businesses. Specific coverage will vary somewhat, but commercial insurance is still a must. Here’s why:

  • Your physical assets, whether inventory or equipment, still need protection.
  • You are not immune to lawsuits simply because you never see your customers in person.
  • You may suffer cyberattacks that cripple your business.

With this in mind, online business owners should discuss with their insurance agent what types of insurance coverage are appropriate for their operations. And soon.

Typically, online business owners should carry:

Commercial property insurance: Many home-based business owners assume their homeowners policy will cover their business assets. This is generally not the case. For proper protection of inventory, tools, materials, or equipment, you should have a commercial property insurance policy. This will provide coverage in case of theft or damage. Without it, one storm or one criminal could bankrupt your operations.

Commercial liability insurance: What happens if a customer sues you? Any lawsuit related to your business operations will not be covered by your homeowners policy. You need commercial liability insurance to provide coverage for the settlement and your defense costs. Even if you win the case, attorney fees add up quickly. Some companies are more likely to be sued than others, but anyone who provides a service or a product (either online or via B&M) is vulnerable.

Cyber liability insurance: Internet security is essential in today’s online marketplace. Even with the best protocols in place, you are still at risk. If your system is hacked, you may lose sensitive information about your business and your clients. You may suffer costly downtime. And it may impact your customers as well. With so much at stake, you can’t afford not to have cyber coverage.

Workers’ compensation: Do you have employees? Even if they don’t work in a B&M location, both full- and part-time employees must have workers’ compensation coverage. Consult with your insurance agent on exactly what coverage you need based on your operations and employee responsibilities.

Professional liability insurance: Those who don’t sell a product can still get sued. If advice provided in a consultation causes harm, or is perceived to have caused harm, you might get sued. This policy will cover you in these potentially costly cases.

Products liability insurance: This coverage is only needed by those who sell a product rather than a service. Even if you believe your product is completely benign, it’s a good idea to have coverage in place. You might be surprised at how children (or even adults) can hurt themselves. As they say: Better safe than sorry.

Loss of income: Do you have a backup plan for a business interruption? Loss of income insurance offers coverage if your online business ceases due to a fire or other covered disaster. With it in place, you can bridge the gap and get things flowing again. Without it, you might be up the creek without a paddle.

Travel Insurance Is Crucial for Those 50+

In today’s uncertain world, a health travel insurance policy makes more sense than ever. But if you’re over 50, you definitely need to consider purchasing it before setting out abroad or on a cruise. Injuries and illnesses arise during travel, and ensuring you have the proper medical coverage to meet your needs is crucial.

New situations, different terrain, and riskier activities, such as parasailing or hiking excursions, can contribute to injuries, particular for older travelers. Even driving in a strange country can be a problem for many.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the top cause of death of U.S. citizens abroad.

Medicare and Medigap

If you have Medicare, your coverage applies in the U.S. wherever practitioners accept it. But if you have a Medicare or Medigap supplement, check with your supplemental insurer on overseas coverage. The Medicare.gov website offers travel coverage advice, and warns that Medigap policies have a lifetime travel emergency coverage limit of $50,000.

Evacuation and repatriation coverage

The best way to ensure you have the broadest coverage overseas is with a travel insurance policy. For example, travel insurance provides emergency evacuation and repatriation. If injured overseas, you (and your spouse) may want to return home for treatment and recuperation. This coverage goes beyond transporting you after an injury or illness. It includes advice, coordination of admission to a local facility, medical air transport and escort when needed, and ground transportation coordination at both ends of an evacuation; it also smooths immigration and flight clearances and assists with travel arrangements.

While some travel policies cover both medical and repatriation, you still may require two policies. Also, although some insurers offer coverage for a single trip, if you make frequent trips in the same year, an annual plan may be the best choice for you. Snowbirds in particular may benefit from this type of plan.

New Season, New Insurance Needs?

Fall is a time for getting your ducks in a row and preparing for the future. As summer comes to a close, assess whether your insurance needs have changed. Review them by answering these questions:

Has your family changed? If you got married this summer, you may qualify for a discount on your auto policy. If you combined households, you may need to update your homeowners policy. If you’re newly divorced, be sure to update all your policies. If you had a baby, review your life insurance coverage to determine whether any changes are needed.

Did your household add or lose drivers? If your teen just acquired a drivers’ license, it’s typically cheaper if you add him or her to your policy than it is for the new driver to get a separate policy. Plus, you’ll likely receive a multi-policy discount. If your child has left the nest for college, you can usually adjust your policy to reduce coverage.

Have you renovated? Review any home projects you completed. Home additions or upgrades can drastically increase the value of your property. Consult with your agent to determine if your homeowners insurance is still adequate. Don’t forget to include structures you added to the outside of your home, such as gazebos or pools.

Are you now a renter or a landlord? If you’ve moved into a new rental, or if you’ve become a new landlord, be sure you have the right policies in place. As a tenant, you need renters insurance to cover your belongings, even if the owner has coverage for the building. As a landlord, ensure both property and liability coverages are adequate.

Did you retire? A major reduction in commute time could translate into a significant reduction in auto insurance premiums. Plus, your senior status may qualify you for a 55+ discount.

Report any of these life changes to your agent as soon as possible, and don’t take the chance of being underinsured.

Summer’s Ending but Summer ‘Toys’ Still Need Protection

Summer is a time for toys! Warmer weather means afternoons on the water and evenings cruising in your convertible. Summer invites everyone to pull out classic cars, jet skis, or speedboats.

In warmer states these can be year-round vehicles, but if you use them infrequently in winter, it’s easy to overlook the need for insurance during the off season. Many vehicle owners are unaware of the requirements as well as the options available for boats and summer cars. Here’s the scoop:

Boat insurance: Small watercraft such as canoes and kayaks are typically covered under your personal property through your homeowners insurance. But larger motorized water vehicles such as wave runners, yachts, and speedboats require a separate policy. Boat insurance typically covers bodily injury and medical payments. And while you may not need this coverage after you dock for the season, boat insurance also covers property damage and theft. This is crucial for protecting your boat in storage, so don’t terminate that policy when Labor Day rolls around.

Summer car insurance: If you know you won’t be driving a car once summer has ended, you may be eligible for a reduced rate while your vehicle is in storage. Don’t cancel your insurance entirely; you’ll want to maintain basic coverage, as your vehicle remains at risk for damage when in storage. In fact, this may be required by law in some areas. Ask my office about reducing collision or comprehensive coverage, but be sure to maintain coverage for damage due to storm, fire, or theft.

The Differences Between Medicare and Medicaid

Many people know of “Medicare” and “Medicaid,” but they may not know the difference between them. The confusion is understandable: Both Medicare and Medicaid are government-sponsored programs providing health care to US citizens. Taxes pay for both programs, and Congress instituted both in the mid-1960s. However, the programs are very different from each other.

Medicare offers dependable coverage for a small monthly premium for US citizens aged 65 and older and for those with a disability, whatever their income. Medicaid is a joint state and federal program designed to provide medical care to those who either don’t have health insurance or have insufficient health insurance and lack the financial resources to buy it. Basically, to qualify for Medicaid, a person must have a low income and few assets.

Currently, the federal government funds up to 50% of Medicaid’s costs, and wealthier states receive less funding than those states that are cash-strapped. One key difference: Medicaid consists of 50 state-run programs, while Medicare is one federal program covering all citizens who meet the age criteria, regardless of their income.

Eligibility and core benefits

Medicaid has specific federal guidelines for eligibility that must be met first, and then each state adds its own guidelines. The federal government mandates certain “medically necessary” treatment, such as lab services, X-rays, and pediatrician visits. States can then add additional benefits, such as vision and dental care, and prescription drug coverage.

Long-term care

For those unable to care for themselves, Medicaid may fund long-term care. Because Medicare does not cover these costs, and eligibility rules are complex, most people seek assistance from attorneys who specialize in Medicaid eligibility.

Medicaid usually doesn’t cover day care for those who can’t be alone during the day but have family present at night. Additionally, not all facilities accept Medicaid. If you’re concerned about your long-term care needs, discussing them with an insurance professional is always your best bet.

How to Make Your Insurance Claim as Easy as PIE

There’s been an incident. You need to start the claims process. To many in this scenario, this responsibility not only looms large, but can feel intimidating. Whether the situation involves an employee injury, an auto accident, or property damage, follow this PIE recipe to make the process faster, easier, and less intimidating.

Photograph: Capture images of the scene. Photograph vehicle damage, physical injuries, and the location of the incident. Documenting everything when it happens will help provide accurate information for all parties involved.

Inscribe: In addition to taking photos, write down all the details. Things may seem crystal clear at the time, but memories fade. Create clear notes that cover who is involved, where it happened, what time, what the circumstances were, and any other pertinent data. This material will be helpful for insurance providers as well as for you when you review the situation later on.

Expedite: File the claim ASAP. The sooner you can get all the information to your insurance provider, the better. Fresh information is clearest. Supplying details right away also allows the carrier to provide quicker and more accurate service.

As you go through this process, keep in mind that your insurance provider is your partner, there to help you through every step. Like you, the insurer wants your claims process to be as efficient and painless as possible.

Contact my office if you have questions, and respond as quickly as possible to your insurer’s requests. Providing additional documentation or statements in a timely way will help create a seamless process for your claim.