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You've been burgled: Now what?

Working with your insurance company after a burglary  

When burglars strike, your home insurance company can help you recover from the ordeal.

"The first thing you need to do is apprise your insurance company of the burglary, and they will work with you on a claims settlement," says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. "A good, cooperative relationship is important."

Your carrier will need to see the police report before it begins processing your claim, notes Kevin Foley, a New Jersey insurance agent. The sooner you complete this task, the sooner you can be reimbursed for your losses.

See also: What are the different types of home insurance?

Whenever your carrier needs you to sign documents, take care of the paperwork to keep the claims process moving, he adds. When homeowners fail to respond to such requests, it brings the claims process to a halt. It's important to remember that your insurer isn't an adversary.

Your carrier may send a claims adjuster to your home to assess the loss, or assign someone to speak to you by phone. Either way, it's important to supply the adjuster with complete and accurate descriptions of all missing or damaged items.

If you can supply receipts or appraisals of stolen valuables, it will help establish their value. With written documentation, you'll be more likely to receive a payout that compensates you for your full loss.

Keep an updated inventory of your property

Keep an updated inventory of your possessions, so it will be easier to report missing items, says Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Start a comprehensive inventory, and update it as you collect more possessions, he advises.

Keep a copy of the inventory in a safe place outside the home, such as in a safety deposit box. That way the information won't be missing after a burglary. If you email a copy to yourself, the list will be accessible by computer. The nonprofit Insurance Information Institute offers free Web-based home inventory software called "Know Your Stuff" to help you store information online.

If you include the serial numbers of valuable items in your inventory, they may help you identify any items that are recovered by law enforcement, Scafidi adds.

Keeping track of possessions can be tough. In addition to keeping a written inventory, some people take photographs or videos of each room in their home so they will have a visual record. This helps them recognize what items have been stolen, Foley says.

Understand the terms of your policy

Before you buy a homeowners insurance policy, carefully read the document so you'll understand the limits of your coverage.

"It's important to know that information before any loss occurs," Foley says.

See also: How to read your home insurance policy

For instance, reimbursements for personal property may be based on the replacement cost, which is the price of purchasing new items, or cash value, which factors in depreciation for older items.

If you have cash-value coverage, you may have to reach into your pocket to come up with enough money to replace stolen items with new ones.

Create barriers to burglary

Scafidi notes several things you can do to discourage thieves:

  • Lock your home whenever you leave.
  • Use outdoor lighting to discourage burglars, who often work at night when people are less likely to see them.
  • Consider installing alarm systems that are remotely monitored by security companies.
  • Trim hedges, bushes and trees that can provide cover for intruders while they pry open doors or windows.

Remember, burglars typically look for easy targets, Scafidi says. The more difficult your home is to rob, the more likely thieves will go someplace else.

See also: 5 ways to burglar-proof your home

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