What to do if you are affected by wildfires, explained by California's insurance commissioner

- Fast-moving wildfires in California have sent a lot of people to look at their insurance policies.

More than 7,000 structures have been by destroyed by an outbreak of wildfires on both ends of the state, and thousands have been forced to evacuate -- a situation that can present its own unexpected costs.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones appeared Tuesday on Good Day LA to discuss what you can do if you have been evacuated by wildfire, the steps to take if your home was damaged, as well as how to prepare for the future.

RESIDENTS UNDER MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

People under mandatory evacuations may apply for assisted living expenses with their insurance company, which covers out-of-pocket costs associated with an evacuation, Jones said. This includes expenses like lodging, clothing and food.

“We urge people once they’ve gotten to safety, secured the safety of themselves and their loved ones, contact their insurance company and ask for that coverage,” Jones said.

START THE CLAIMS PROCESS IMMEDIATELY

Jones advises people to start their insurance claims process as soon as possible. Don't wait and get caught in the backlog.

"Know that it’s going to be a slow and painful process, but the first thing to do is to ask your insurance company or agent to give you a copy of your policy," Jones said. "Review it, and then begin the process of making a claim."

Making a claim involves getting a contractor’s estimate for what it will cost to rebuild your home and providing that to the insurance company. The insurance company will then send their adjusters, who will come up with their own estimate, and then as Jones puts it, the "negotiation process" begins.

If you have issues or a dispute with the insurance company, you can call the California Department of Insurance consumer hotline at 1-800-927-4357 (HELP).

IF YOU HAVEN'T BEEN AFFECTEDYET

Jones recommends each year getting a replacement cost estimate for your home from the insurance company and from the contractor. He also advises insuring to percentages above the cost of your home. 

"In these mass fire events, prices go up due to labor shortages and material shortages. So you can buy coverage for 120 to 150 percent of your replacement cost," he said.

Don’t insure to the market value of your home. Often times, it’s a higher number.

KEEP INVENTORY OF YOUR HOME

Take a detailed inventory of your home. Video record every closet, bedroom and all important belongings. The California Department of Insurance has a home inventory guide on its website to help document your possessions.

Make sure your policy is up to date, Jones adds. If you have done a remodel, you must update your policy to get the "real" value of your home.

For additional information and resources, www.insurance.ca.gov, including the department's Top 10 Tips for Wildfire Claimants.

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