DennisBeaverAugust 2, 2018 • By Dennis Beaver

If you or someone close to you has either been the victim of California’s wildfires or is facing that threat and has homeowners or renters insurance, today’s story will be of special interest. We are going to provide you with concrete steps to take hopefully before disaster strikes but first, this question:

While insurance agents are very good at suggesting the kinds of coverage we should have for our homes and autos, have you ever spoken to one who personally faced the consequences of wildfires or other natural disasters? If so, what impact do you think this has had on the advice provided to their clients?

Meet State Farm agent Irene Henry

Chicago native Irene Henry was in law school when approached by State Farm insurance and offered a job as an agent. “I wanted to become a lawyer to help people, and realized that as an insurance agent I could do that as well, and it seemed a perfect fit for my personality, so after graduation, I took the job and haven’t looked back.”

In 1987 she opened her own office in Santa Barbara, later moving to Ventura, and has personally been through a number of fires including the December 2017 Thomas Fire which ravaged Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“It was a massive wildfire, the largest in California history. I know our family knows from personal experience what it means to have been evacuated,” Henry states in a tone of voice that, even months later, still rings of fear, adding, “Most insurance agents do not experience these things, but they bring you closer to your clients, because you truly understand what they face. Having been there yourself, you are better able to provide practical advice.”

Having adequate limits of coverage is absolutely critical

Henry offers money-saving advice to renters.

“Insurance sold by most companies which covers a renter’s belongings is an incredible bargain. $25,000 limits costs as little as $15 a month. But studies show that most people have personal property which, to replace, would cost well over $30,000, so having adequate limits of coverage to protect your family in the event of a total loss is absolutely critical, offering peace of mind, and compensation to help you recover, including living expenses.”

And for condominium owners?

“If you are buying your home and making payments — including for a condominium — homeowners/condominium insurance is required. Having adequate limits of coverage in place makes this a very important purchase.”

Smartphone photos and videos prove what you owned

So you’ve purchased good coverage limits, but in the event of a total loss, how do you prove what was in the home? Henry answers that question with two words: Smartphone inventory.

“Preparing for a loss means taking your smartphone, performing a detailed photographic inventory of all the contents of each room — including inside of drawers and closets – and coming up with a total of what it would cost to buy new. By saving all of this it to the cloud, this makes for a much smoother claim process.”

Preparation = having a to-go box

Henry and her family had to leave their home three times due to fires and the risk of landslide. “We have one to-go box which contains all important personal information, such as passports, insurance documents, auto registration, medication, and so on. It is in a closet, ready to-go at a moment’s notice,” she explained.

“And, we have another box which contains food, water, basic essentials, including a non-electric can opener, we can grab and out the door we go. Having these things in place meant that were able to load our car and leave in less than 10 minutes, and we had pets – two dogs. This preparation proved to be so valuable.”

If a total loss and no inventory or proof of contents?

We asked Henry how insurance companies deal with a total loss where there are no photos or inventory of what was lost, and the policyholder is now homeless. What can our readers in these fire zones expect?

“While amounts paid will vary, company by company, in a total loss claims adjusters will often pay a significant portion of the policy limits for contents up-front. We have to remember, these people have nothing left, so adjusters will assist in finding them a place to live and pay additional living expenses. This means a roof over their head, food on the table and clothing on their back.”

Irene Henry’s clients are fortunate indeed that she did not become a lawyer.

“I am just so proud of the people in my industry who are there to help in the worst of times.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.