When you know a storm is coming, take steps to prepare

When a hurricane or tropical storm turns inland, it may diminish in strength, but the potential remains for severe damage from winds and heavy rain. When you know a storm is coming, take steps to minimize damage and speed recovery.

First and foremost, take whatever precautions are necessary to protect yourself and your family. While property preparations are important, they’re not worth risking life or health. If you need to evacuate, do so, as long as you have time to reach a place of safety. Don’t be caught on the roads in your car or attempt to drive through water-covered streets. Once the storm reaches your area, stay inside, away from windows and possible flying debris.

If you have sufficient time, here are some simple things you can do to prepare your home or business:

PROPERTY

Clean out your gutters. Remove leaves and other debris, first by hand to get rid of the large particles and then with a scraping tool and water hose. This helps to prevent overflows that could cause interior damage.

Make sure downspouts and window drains properly guide the water away from the structure. Direct downspouts at least 6 feet from the foundation. Clear any obstructions.

Clear your yard of potential flying debris. Store lawn furniture, potted plants, bicycles, trash cans or other loose items.

Protect your windows and glass doors. If you have functional shutters, secure them.

Move business and construction vehicles to higher ground. Keeping vehicles and other movable property out of harm’s way can shorten the downtime faced by your organization and get you back in business sooner after the storm has passed.

EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES

Test your generator or battery backup. Be prepared for an extended power outage, especially if you have electrically powered medical equipment. Store extra fuel safely and only in approved containers. Don’t operate portable gas generators indoors or in enclosed spaces where it could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Charge your cell phone and any extra batteries. Adjust settings to eliminate non-essential apps and preserve battery life. Store emergency phone numbers in your contacts, including family members, your doctor, your insurance agent and your insurance company’s claims phone number. Keep a paper copy in case you lose power.

Stock up on flashlights, spare batteries, food and water. Keep your emergency kit supplied with provisions for each family member. Don’t forget your pets. Keep extra diapers on hand for little ones.

Check your first aid kit. Keep it stocked with the basics to treat minor scrapes or injuries; in the case of a disaster, emergency medical services may be limited to life-threatening cases. Keep several days’ supply of prescription medications on hand.

Know where your emergency shutoff valves are located. In the event of damage, you may need to cut off electricity, water or gas.

GENERAL PREPARATIONS

Understand the coverage provided in your insurance policy. No one should be surprised that things like “flood” and “earth movement” may be limited or excluded under some insurance policies. If something isn’t clear to you, contact your agent and get an explanation of exactly what your policy will provide for you.

Store a copy of your insurance policy. It’s best to keep a copy offsite, in a safe deposit box or digitally in a location you can access from anywhere. If you must evacuate, take copies of key papers with you, including birth certificates, marriage records, property deeds, bank accounts, etc.

Identify the safe places in your home. Know where to go away from windows, skylights and glass doors in case the storm spawns a tornado.

Keep a home inventory. If a storm is imminent, it may be too late to thoroughly document your belongings, but even taking cellphone photos of each room can help if you need to file an insurance claim later.

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Rental Car Insurance

There are more options for renting a car than ever before. In the past, you simply selected a vehicle from one of the many brick-and-mortar car rental companies found at airports, train stations or other locations. Today, technology has made possible other alternatives, including peer-to-peer car services, which enable consumers to rent personally owned cars from others; and car sharing programs in which—for a monthly or annual fee—consumers can pick up a vehicle at a wide range of locations for periods ranging from minutes to days.

While these car rental options mean more choice for consumers, they mean more questions about insurance coverage. Fortunately, it is possible to be properly insured when renting a car without wasting money by purchasing duplicative coverage.

The insurance coverage offered by traditional car rental companies is fairly standardized. However, coverage varies widely amongst other types of car sharing programs. The most important step is to read the car rental/sharing agreement—most companies clearly state what is covered as well as the supplemental coverage that can be purchased.

Regardless of the rental car option, the I.I.I. suggests making two phone calls:

The first, to your insurance company, to find out how much coverage you currently have on your own car. In most cases, whatever coverage and deductibles you have on your own car would apply when you rent a car (providing you are using the rental car for recreation and not for business).

  • If you have dropped either collision or comprehensive on your own car as a way to reduce costs, you may not be covered if your rental car is stolen or damaged. Insurance rules vary by state, so it is best to check with your insurance professional for the specifics of your policy.
  • Check to see whether your insurance company pays for—or provides a rider for—administrative fees, loss of use or towing charges.

The second, to your credit card company. Insurance benefits offered by credit card companies differ depending on the company and/or the bank that issues the card, and the level of credit card used (a platinum card may offer more insurance coverage than a gold card). However, most credit card only provide limited coverage, such as covering the deductible if there is a claim.

  • To know exactly the type and amount of insurance that is included, call the toll-free number on the back of the credit card you will be using to rent the car. If you are depending on a credit card for insurance protection, ask the credit card company or bank to send you their coverage information in writing.
  • In most cases, credit card benefits are secondary to either your personal insurance policy or the insurance coverage offered by the rental car company.

Brick-and-Mortar Car Rental Insurance

Consumers renting from traditional car rental companies can generally choose from the following coverages (Note: insurance is state-regulated; the cost and coverage will vary from state to state.):

  • Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) Also referred to as a collision damage waiver, an LDW is not technically an insurance product—it is designed to relieve or “waive” renters of financial responsibility if their rental car is damaged or stolen. In most cases, waivers also provide coverage for “loss of use,” in the event the rental car company charges for the time a damaged car cannot be used because it is being fixed. An LDW may also cover towing and administrative fees. The Loss Damage Waiver may become void if the accident was caused by speeding, driving on unpaved roads or driving while intoxicated.Comprehensive/collision auto coverage generally covers damage to a rental car. Keep in mind, however, that in most states diminished value is not covered by personal auto insurance policies.
  • Liability Insurance By law, rental companies must provide the state required minimum amount of liability insurance coverage—generally this figure is low and does not provide much protection. (See State minimums here.)A standard auto insurance policy includes liability coverage. For additional protection, consider an umbrella liability policy. Non car-owners who are frequent renters can also purchase a non-owner liability policy, which not only provides liability protection when renting a car, but also when borrowing someone else’s car.
  • Personal Accident Insurance This covers the driver and passengers for medical and ambulance bills for injuries caused in a car crash Health insurance or the personal injury protection (PIP) provided by your auto insurance will likely cover medical expenses.
  • Personal Effects Coverage This provides insurance protection for the theft of items from a rental car.A homeowners or renters insurance policy includes off-premises theft coverage. If you frequently travel with expensive items such as jewelry, cameras, musical instruments or sports equipment, consider a personal articles floater to protect your valuables at home and while traveling.

Car Sharing and Peer-to-Peer Car Rental Insurance

The insurance offered by these companies is not standardized. It is therefore important to go to the company’s website to read the insurance coverage information carefully. If you have any questions, call the customer service number listed on the website. And contact your auto insurer if you feel you need more information to make an educated insurance coverage decision.
Car sharing programs like ZipCar, generally include insurance costs in the fee. However, if the car is involved in a collision or is stolen, the renter may be billed for a specific dollar amount that is stated in the membership agreement. For an additional cost, customers can purchase a “waiver” to avoid paying the accident fee. Car renters under the age 21 should read the insurance coverage carefully as many programs limit coverage for young drivers to the minimum state required amount of liability. Young renters can look into whether their parents’ auto insurance would cover them for the difference, or purchasing their own non-owner liability policy.
A number of web-based peer-to-peer rental services (e.g. RelayRides) offer both basic coverage and supplemental insurance. The supplemental insurance includes both coverage for damage to the car and liability protection, and provides a choice of coverage amounts and deductibles. Renters who do not purchase the additional insurance are required to sign an agreement stating that they declined the coverage.

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Peak Hurricane Season Starts This Month – Are You Prepared?

Hurricanes can cause widespread devastation in just a few hours.

Extreme winds, harsh rainfall, floods, storm surges and even tornadoes can work together to create one of the most destructive scenes a community may ever see.

Despite predictions for a less severe hurricane season this year, as Hurricane Matthew proved last fall, it only takes one storm to reach land to create major havoc for home and business owners in any part of the country.

To keep safe during hurricanes and other natural disasters, it’s crucial to prepare well before the storm arrives. Here is a refresher on steps to take to keep your home or business safe from a hurricane this season.

1. Make an emergency kit.
Emergency kits typically include essentials like water, non-perishable food, first-aid kits, medications, flashlights, batteries, a crank radio, important documents, and anything else you might need if you have to evacuate quickly. Once assembled, keep your emergency kit stocked in a secure location you can access quickly if you need to evacuate.

2. Create a communication plan.
Sit down with your family to establish a buddy system, how you will get in touch with each other if you aren’t together when disaster strikes, and the safe area where you will meet if separated.

3. Contact your community.
If hurricanes are common in your area, your local emergency management system may already have evacuation routes and predetermined storm shelters in place. If so, locate these routes before a storm even begins.

4. Stay informed.
Listen to local weather services on TV, radio or social media to get the latest updates about storms in your area. Authorities will use these devices to let you know when it’s time to evacuate and take action.

5. Practice your plan.
Get your family or employees together to put your plan into action. Simulate the effects of a storm as much as possible. If you notice any holes or areas that need fixing, now is the time to make tweaks — before the storm actually hits.

Protecting your house from a hurricane.
While it’s crucial that you take steps to keep yourself and your family safe from hurricanes, it’s important that your home is protected, too. To properly prepare your home for a disaster, consider the following:

1. Get reinforcements.

Your doors, windows, walls and roof are extremely vulnerable during hurricanes. Have a professional inspect your home to determine the proper way to reinforce these crucial areas before a storm hits.

2. Remove outdoor items.
Removing items in your yard like furniture, umbrellas, debris, loose rain gutters, dead trees and more can decrease the risk of items getting picked up and thrown into your home during the storm. If you suspect a storm is moving in, secure or remove as many outdoor items as possible.

3. Waterproof your basement.
It’s likely that you’ll experience flooding during the hurricane. To minimize costs and damages, have a professional inspect and waterproof your basement as much as possible. Be sure to elevate all critical utilities to decrease the risk of electrical shock and store any books or critical papers in plastic bins or on upper levels of the house.

4. Purchase flood insurance.
Most homeowners’ insurance plans don’t cover any risks associated with floods, making owners potentially liable for any repairs required after the hurricane. Flood insurance must be purchased well before the storm hits and covers the structure, but not the contents inside. Make sure to review the policy to determine what is specifically covered.

Following these steps will help mitigate some of the damage to your home and expedite recovery and restoration efforts.

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Claiming life insurance or annuity death benefits

Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult life events an individual ever has to face. Understanding what is necessary to file a claim can help ease your burden and streamline the process so you can focus on what matters most.

Your insurer can pay life insurance and annuity claims more quickly when it can:

  • Verify the death of the insured via a certified death certificate with cause and manner of death
  • Validate that the policy is active at time of death
  • Verify that the claimant is entitled to benefits
REQUIRED INFORMATION

Your life insurance agent can help you file your life insurance or annuity claim with the appropriate documentation. Use the insurance company’s specific claim form, but most insurance companies will require:

  • Policy number
  • Insured’s name, address, Social Security number and date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Cause of death
  • Medical provider’s names and addresses (for contestable claims)
  • Tax withholding information, if applicable (for annuities)
  • Current mailing or email address for the beneficiary (claimant)

You will need a certified death certificate stating the cause and manner of death. Funeral homes often can obtain copies of the death certificate for you. You will be asked to return the policy; if it is lost, there is usually a place to note this on the claim form.

Your agent can also help you review your existing policies to determine if changes are needed due to the death of your loved one.

CONTESTABLE CLAIMS

If the claim is contestable – in most states claims that occur within two years after policy issue or reinstatement – you also may need a statement from the agent who wrote the policy, a statement completed by the insured’s primary physician, authorization for release of necessary information, or medical records or other information requested by the insurance company’s claim department.

FOLLOW-UP

When you submit your claim, ask your agent or insurance company when to expect a follow-up contact and when a payment is expected. The Cincinnati Life Insurance Company follows up at least every 30 days for any outstanding requirements and strives to pay all claims as soon as possible after receipt of all necessary documents and approval of the claim. Cincinnati can pay claims by check, EFT, Benefit Access Account (where available) or use of one of the settlement options in the policy. Your insurance company’s payment options may vary.

You may be able to request payment directly to a funeral home, cemetery or other party. Ask your agent or insurance company whether an assignment of proceeds form is necessary.

CONTINGENT BENEFICIARIES AND MINORS

If the primary beneficiary dies before the insured, benefits are paid to the contingent beneficiary. If no beneficiary survives the insured, the benefits are payable to the estate of the insured; the estate’s court-appointed representative may need to provide additional documentation. If there is no estate, the family may wish to contact an attorney or the county probate court to obtain information about small-estate administration. Additional advice may also be helpful if the named beneficiary is a minor.

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Is Your Child Going Away to School? Auto Insurance for Teen Drivers

Because they present more of a risk, auto insurance rates are generally higher for teenage drivers. However, there are some ways you can both protect yourself financially and lower the cost of insuring your teen by doing the following:

Understand the Risk
It is important to talk to your teen about the relationship between auto accidents and insurance costs. Teens often forget that the cost of owning a car includes auto insurance. Explain that a driving infraction or being in an accident can drive up their insurance costs.

Shop Around
Insurance companies differ in how they price policies for young drivers, so spend some time researching prices to find the best fit for you and your teen.

Insure Your Teen on Your Own Policy
It is generally less expensive for parents to add teenager to their insurance policy than for teens to purchase their own. By insuring your teenager’s car with your insurance company, you can also qualify for a multi-vehicle discount.

Assign Your Teen to the Right Car
Find out how your insurer assigns drivers to cars—some insurers will assign the driver who is the most expensive to insure (generally the teenager) to the car that is the most expensive to insure. If possible, assign your teen to the least valuable car. Some insurers will allow policyholders to do this if the number of automobiles equals or exceeds the number of insured drivers on a policy. With this kind of arrangement there can be no exceptions; your teen must use only the car to which he or she is assigned, even in an emergency. If your teen is involved in an accident with an unassigned car, penalties could be imposed and your premiums might increase.

Increase Your Liability Insurance
Should your teen get into an accident, state minimums for liability insurance will not be enough to fully protect you from lawsuits. Many vehicles today are worth more than $15,000 and medical bills for injuries can easily exceed $20,000 for one person. If your teen is found negligent in an accident and the damages exceed your insurance limits, you will be held financially responsible and could be sued in court for those amounts not covered by your insurance.

Consider an Umbrella Liability Policy
In our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. That is what a personal umbrella liability policy provides. An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander. For about $150 to $300 per year you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $75, and $50 for every million after that. Most insurers will want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy before selling you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.

Raise Your Deductible
Going from a $250 to $500 or $1,000 deductible can save you 10 percent to 20 percent on your premium. You may want to use those savings to increase your liability insurance.

Is Your Teen Going Away To School?
When your teen heads off to college, you may be eligible for lower premiums, providing he or she leaves the car behind. Many insurers will reduce rates for students attending a school at least 100 miles away from home who do not have a car on campus.

Good Grades + Driver Training = Discount
Most insurance companies will give discount on auto insurance to students who are maintaining at least a “B” average in school. Another way to earn a discount is by having your teen take a recognized driver training course.

Contact Your Insurance Professional
When your teen is ready to get his or her learners permit, make sure to have a conversation with your insurance professional so he or she can clearly explain the costs involved in insuring a teenage driver. The good news is, as your teenager gets older, insurance rates will drop—providing he or she has a good driving record.

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A dog’s value: Priceless

As a dog-loving fanatic since I was a little boy, I can remember only a few times in my life when I did not have at least one dog to chum around with, train and run and play with. And I’m not alone. It’s estimated that 60.2 million American households own dogs.

Most of my dogs have been Labrador retrievers, but I also had several golden retrievers, a basset hound and various mixed breed dogs. I’ve enjoyed hours of teaching them stupid pet tricks, being on all fours playing and simply enjoying them lying at my feet while I work.

I could spend this entire blog talking about the wonderful traits of each one: their intelligence, amazing stories and adorable moments. But what I really wanted to do was outline the benefits and responsibilities of having a dog companion based on my personal experiences.

BENEFITS

These are just four areas where you can find value in dog ownership. There are many more.

  • Therapy – An associate once asked me for information on animal therapy, which made me start thinking about this as a value proposition of pet ownership. I know many organizations provide animal therapy to those with physical and mental challenges, health issues or other needs, and these are all amazing resources. But my dog provides me therapy every day when I walk into my home. He greets me at the door with a simple toy in his mouth, tail wagging and body language indicating I’m the most important and exciting thing that has happened to him since, well, the last most important and exciting thing. He’s always excited to see me whether I’ve been gone 1 minute or 8 hours. Therapy? Yes.
  • Security – He is always on call announcing everything from the doorbell to the daily entry into the mailbox by the letter carrier. He howls when I don’t answer my cell phone and barks to warn another dog being walked past our house to keep on moving. Our dog has such a ferocious growl and bark when the front doorbell rings that any sane person would fear attempting entry. I once thought of training this trait out, but my wife said, “Why? Then we’d need an alarm system.” Good point, and value No. 2.
  • Fitness – An exercised dog is a happy, good dog, and a healthy human is a productive spouse, parent and employee. Several times a day my dog glares at me from across the room. Some days, it is an inner sense I have. So I swivel my office chair around, and he’s sitting there patiently with perked ears and a wagging tail, letting me know it’s time to get up and take him somewhere. Most often this is a walk to replace worn smells, but a run, hike or even a car ride can pacify this need. He is a really active dog who enjoys a long day on a trail, especially if there is snow. Fitness is definitely a benefit of dog ownership.
  • Education – Training my dog has taught me many things, including patience, consistency, humility and the importance of verbal and nonverbal communication. We can all use these extremely valuable traits in many areas of our lives. If the training goes badly, it is my job to figure out the solution. The problem-solving skills are critical to so many other parts of my life.
RESPONSIBILITIES

In addition to enjoying the value of owning a dog, keep in mind that dog ownership carries with it responsibility. Consider these factors of being a responsible dog owner:

  • Observe the leash laws in your area. More than simply obeying the law, it is much safer for your dog. Remember that some people are just scared of dogs. Unless you are in a designated off-leash park, be safe and courteous and keep your dog on leash.
  • Clean up your dog’s waste. With the large number of dogs being walked daily around the U.S., nothing is less respectful than to leave your dog’s poop on the ground. Dog poop is not fertilizer, as the food they eat doesn’t provide any nourishment to the soil.
  • Contact your insurance agent to discuss owning a dog. Some insurance policies restrict owning certain dog breeds based on aggressive traits.
  • Consider adopting a rescue animal. The ASPCA estimates there are 3.3 million dogs in shelters nationwide. Adopting a rescued dog will be rewarding for both of you. Our dog is a healthy, well-mannered gentleman who was rescued from a kill shelter and came already housebroken.Owning a dog does come with many responsibilities. Busy families or traveling professionals should consider the time and cost of ownership, but the true gifts are the intangible values you receive from the relationship.

The loss control information mentioned in this blog is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. See your local, independent insurance agent for advice on coverages and liability.

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When to Show Your Roof Some Love

You may tend to overlook your roof, but it’s actually the most important component of your home – and the most vulnerable. It protects you from the elements like rain, snow and sun, but roofs don’t last forever!

I didn’t really think about the importance of roofs until recently when my friend and her husband bought their first home. It was built in the late 40s, and since she moved in she’s been saying how badly her roof needs replacing. Of course, that was five months ago, and work has still yet to be done. I then thought to myself, is putting off the project really going to affect you that much?

The answer is, yes!

So – I began to research how one would go about replacing or repairing a roof.

The first order of business: understand the relationship between the age of your roof and its life expectancy. According to the Good Housekeeping magazine, shingle roofs should last between 20-30 years (if you have a different type of roof, such as metal or clay tile, you may have to follow different rules). If your home is new or the roof was recently replaced, you should be in the clear. However, it doesn’t hurt to do a checkup after getting hit with severe weather like a hailstorm, ice and snow or crazy rain.

If your roof is getting close to its 30th birthday, keep your eyes open for warning signs that tell you it’s time for a revamp. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Loose shingle tabs
  • Cracks in shingles
  • Broken or missing tabs
  • Buckling or curling shingles
  • Shingles covered in moss or algae
  • Majority of granules worn off tabs
  • Sunlight is shining through the attic
  • Extensive leaking

According to Home Advisor, a roof replacement can range anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000. The size of your home, the materials used and where you live will affect that price range. It’s no small sum, but in return for the investment, you’ll add thousands of dollars to the resale value of your home and ensure a safe and habitable dwelling for years to come. Don’t need a new roof right now? Do a quick check each month to see if maintenance is needed. If you notice problems like missing shingles or signs of water damage, be sure to call a roofing specialist to make the repairs as soon as possible – it could save you a bundle by prolonging the life of your roof and stopping costly leaks in their tracks.

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