This is a difficult column for me to write. There are no adequate words to describe the sadness we all share for friends and neighbors affected by the fires.
The Atlas Fire and other fires surrounding us in Napa, as well as fires in neighboring counties, may end up being the worst in memory. We don’t know, and as I write this column, the smoke is still rising.
Please share these seven steps with anyone who has been affected.
And consider saving this article link and referring to it in case you ever find yourself in the same tragic situation.
Step 1: Call your insurance agent
If you have a local agent, call him or her.
If you don’t have a local agent, call your insurance company. But still consider calling a local agent referred to you by a friend.
Why is this the first step?
A local insurance agent will know what special claims procedures may be in place during this large-scale disaster. They can also provide needed emotional support to navigate the difficult process of getting back to financial normal.
Step 2: File your claim right away
When disasters on a large scale happen, the claims system gets overwhelmed.
Even though it’s “all hands-on deck” at the insurance company, everything will take longer. Sure, they will add staff and eventually everyone will receive excellent care. But make sure you are standing in line early.
Step 3: Document everything
Take good notes and lots of pictures. Dates and times matter too. If you have inventory lists of all your belongings, property improvements and valuations… great. But most folks don’t.
So start writing things down now. Don’t wait.
Step 4: Secure your property
Do this only after it is completely safe to return, and only if you are capable of doing so.
Preventing further damage is one of your responsibilities under most policies. But you may need help to do this… don’t be afraid to ask for it.
That’s what neighbors and friends are for.
Step 5: Keep making your payments
Don’t forget to pay your mortgage and your insurance premiums, even if your property is a complete loss. This is one of the most common mistakes folks make after losing everything in a fire.
Step 6: Keep track of additional living expenses
If you’ve taken refuge in a hotel or motel, keep receipts. All of them. Also keep receipts for meals, personal care items, and clothing.
Most policies provide for Additional Living Expenses (ALE) and many policies provide this benefit for a long period of time if necessary. So keep a record of everything.
Step 7: Don’t settle early
In the case of natural disasters, some insurance companies disburse checks quickly to help with immediate needs.
That’s great if they do that. But watch for language accompanying each check, and make sure you are not unknowingly closing the claim by accepting the check.
You don’t have to “settle” right away.
If you are reeling from this tragedy, you’ll need help to navigate the insurance claims process.
Don’t go it alone. There is a community ready to help.
Shorter and wetter days are soon upon us. There’s more risk driving this time of year. Let’s be prepared.
Whether it’s a car accident or a breakdown, bad things happen while driving. It seems like we hear about someone having a “bad day on the road” every week. If it’s not us, or our friends, it’s a friend of a friend. We are closer than “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” when it comes to car accidents or breakdowns.
It’s not a question of “will something happen?”
It’s always a question of “when will something happen?” and “am I ready?”
Make a list
I don’t usually do a lot of lists in my articles, but today is an exception. Print this out, then go over it as a family and add to it things that I might have missed.
So, let’s make a “Bad Day on the Road” list right now.
The bare-minimum kit
If you aren’t much into planning; if you are a kind of “grab and go” person, you can still prepare a small kit of essentials for your vehicle. It’s easy, and you should consider doing it today.
Proof of insurance card
Vehicle registration card
Insurance agent name and number
Phone charger (and an extra phone battery pack too)
Small flashlight and extra batteries
List of emergency contacts written on a 3x5 card (in case you are unconscious)
List of any medical conditions you have, also written on a 3x5 card
Band-aids and duct tape
Warm blanket and a coat in the winter
Auto escape tool, for cutting seat belts and breaking windows in an emergency
IN THE TRUNK:
More blankets and coats
Flares, warning lights, reflective triangles or safety cones
The better kit
OK... there are more things that really should be added to that list. These are things you’ll wish you had, especially if you run off the road, or are stranded waiting for help. So, add these to the list above:
INSIDE VEHICLE: Energy bars
Complete first-aid kit
Large flashlight and extra battery
Umbrella and/or rain poncho
Matches or lighter
Multitool (plyers, knife, screwdriver)
IN THE TRUNK:
Change of clothes
Windshield washer fluid
Air pressure gage
Fix-a-flat spray for short-term tire sealing
Tire changing tools and a good spare tire
More duct tape (“the handyman’s secret weapon”)
Cat litter and carpet remnant (for tire traction)
The ready-for-almost-anything kit
Add these to your lists above, and you’ll feel downright confident should something happen:
Playing cards to pass the time
Tarp, bungy cords, and rope
Extra antifreeze and oil
Clean and empty, safety-approved gas can
Portable battery charger
Basic tool kit... even if you aren’t a mechanic, one may stop to help.
1. Remember to check your tire pressure, make sure tire tread is good, check your oil and fluid levels, and don’t ignore that new weird noise your car is making. Your mechanic is car’s friend. Don’t ignore obvious warning signs.
2. Consider getting roadside assistance (towing) coverage if you don’t already have it.
3. Make sure your insurance coverage is up to date. Call your agent — especially if it’s been a while.