- If you have insurance, call your broker and get a copy of your policy and your declarations page. The insurance is required by law to provide this to you within 30 days of your request. Ask your broker to tell you how much coverage you have to rebuild your home, to cover the contents, and to cover Additional Living Expenses (“ALE”).
- Plan how you will use your ALE coverage. Usually you can claim ALE for 24 months, or until the coverage runs out, whichever happens first. You can get an additional 12 months if you encounter delays in rebuilding or replacing your home that aren’t your fault. But again, once the dollar amount of the coverage is exhausted, that’s it. Sometimes a survivor is happy that the adjuster found him a nice replacement apartment and is paying the rent without complaint. Trouble is, it’s so nice that it will exhaust the ALE coverage in 14 months. So even though the insurance company is paying the rent, you need to find reasonably affordable living accommodations if the ALE coverage is to see you through.
- Keep track of all the expenses you incur as a result of living away from home. Throw receipts in a shoebox — receipts for eating out, additional mileage and gas costs, and so on. Even if you can’t get insurance to pay the costs, they may be recoverable against PG&E.
- Document your conversations with your adjuster about your policy benefits. If, for example, the adjuster says that something is excluded from coverage, send him an email confirming that he said that. As far as the Department of Insurance is concerned, the only thing that counts is what is in the adjuster’s “claims diary,” and that’s where emails go. Clients report to us that when they send the adjuster an email confirming that he told them orally that that something was not covered under the policy, the adjuster will quickly change his tune.
- Begin preparing an inventory of the personal property you lost. Make a list of everything you lost in the fire, while your memory is fresh. The list should include not just big items, but knifes and forks, towels and sheets, and other housewares. You can use a form of your own making or a form from the internet. You’ll probably need it to maximize your recovery against your insurance policy. And even if you don’t, it will be useful if you make a claim against PG&E.