A homeowners declaration page can be the worst kind of boring. So, let’s make it interesting!
What’s a “dec” page?
‘Dec’ page is short for declarations page. It’s actually simple. Think of it as the table of contents to the book called “Your Homeowners Policy.”
It’s usually pretty close to the front, and usually labeled quite clearly: homeowners declaration page.
It’s a summary of your coverage, and the important stuff like policy number, name of the policyholder, the address and property insured and the mortgage holder.Why should you review your ‘dec’ page every year?
Changes happen all the time. Mortgages get paid off, additions are made to the home, or a new piece of expensive jewelry was purchased.
The dec page is a quick, “at a glance” page that you should look at every time a new one comes in the mail. Even small omissions or errors can have a big impact at claim time. Some can be serious, or some can just be annoying. Let’s look at a common one.
“Jack” did what he always does every year when he gets his new homeowners policy in the mail... he tossed it onto “the pile.” Unopened. You know the pile. The “I’m gonna open it someday” pile.
A few months later, lightning struck Jack’s house, and there was a huge fire. Jack was OK, but now began the tedious task of working with the claims department.
Jack agreed with the insurance company on the Scope of Loss, and was ready for checks to start coming in. But they didn’t come.
When he called, he found out that the insurance company had sent the last three checks to his old mortgage company... even though Jack didn’t have a mortgage anymore.
Jack forgot to tell the insurance company that his mortgage had been paid off. If he had opened his policy, and read the ‘dec’ page, he would have seen this simple oversight. But the ‘dec’ page sat in “the pile.” Still unopened. And slightly charred.
Don’t be like Jack. Read your ‘dec’ page.
Why are all those capital letters on the dec page?
The coverage are labeled by letters. Typical homeowners policies have sections A, B, C, D, E and F.
The good news is that there is quite a bit of standardization in the insurance industry. So once you learn what each section covers, you will feel more in control of your coverage choices.
We’re going to look at each of these sections in my next few articles, staring in two weeks with coverage A, B and C.
Coverage A is dwelling coverage, B is other structures (think garage and shed), and C is personal property. For now, just think of A, B, and C as the “stuff you can touch” coverage.
Coverage D is loss of use. Think of it as room and board at the local hotel because your house is in ashes and smoke. There’s more to this of course, but we’ll cover that in later weeks.
Finally, there’s E and F, what I like to call “Somebody Got Hurt on Your Property” coverage.
This is an often-forgotten coverage, and it’s a very important part of your homeowners policy. So, we’ll spend time just on that in the coming weeks.
Go find your ‘dec’ page. If you can’t find it, call your agent and request a new one. Look it over and ask your agent about any parts that confuse you.
Make sure the address, mortgage holder, and policyholders are all correct. Call your agent if they aren’t.
You filed a claim weeks or months ago and it’s still not settled.
What can you do?
I’m going to step into dangerous waters in this column. Dangerous, because unresolved claims can be frustrating. They can make you feel powerless.
You can avoid a lot of frustration by asking your agent for an “insurance claims checkup.”
A routine checkup during the claims process can make you feel better and possibly resolve your claim more quickly and more accurately.
Here’s how to begin.
Know what your agent can’t do
Knowing what your agent can’t do will clear the way for a good agent-insured relationship during the claims process.
Here are at least three things they can’t do:
First, your agent isn’t a claims adjuster. In fact, they are prohibited by their company from deciding the outcome of a claim at all. They aren’t allowed to say “yes” or “no” or “how much.”
Second, your agent isn’t a judge or an attorney. They can’t bind or change anything. The policy that you bought is the governing document and everyone is bound by it.
Third, your agent can’t (and shouldn’t) promise a particular outcome of your claim.
In short, as much as you might wish they could, your agent can’t decide how much you get.
Know what your agent can do
Now that we’ve seen what your agent can’t do, you might be tempted to say, “So what good is my agent? What can they do?”
They can do plenty!
Here are at least four things your agent can help you with during a claims checkup.
1. Provide emotional support
You may start to feel like your family and friends are tired of hearing about your struggles with the insurance company.
But your agent won’t ever get tired of hearing it. You are his or her most important job. Your agent can be a knowledgeable relief valve for your frustrations. Let your agent be that for you.
2. Be a point of contact
It’s common for a claim to involve lots of people.
There’s the person who adjusts the claim, their boss, the assistants, the person who writes the checks, the mortgage company, the various contractors... the list goes on and on.
You can get overwhelmed just trying to figure out who you should talk to next. Your agent can help you navigate the communications confusion.
3. Clarify policy confusion
Policyholders aren’t the only ones who can get confused about what a policy covers or doesn’t cover. Adjusters can miss things too.
So even though an agent can’t “rule” on policy language, they can spotlight particular policy language that might have been overlooked.
Adjusters are good folks. They really try to do the right thing. But having your agent as a second set of eyes on the policy could make a difference in a final settlement. I’ve seen it happen.
4. Encourage swift action
I’ve seen claims stall for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s the insured who didn’t realize the ball was in their court.
Sometimes it’s the insurance company waiting for something they already have. Your agent can get to the bottom of what’s holding up a claim and light a fire under people when needed.
Ask your local agent for a claims checkup. They can translate “insurance-speak” into regular talk. Let them be your trusted ally.