Personal Property Claims: The Depreciation Trap

Personal property claims can be some of the most frustrating claims in the insurance claims process. The deck is stacked against you if you have any kind of insurance policy that insures your personal property. This is true for property owned by homeowners and renters as well as the personal property owned by businesses and other commercial entities.

Personal property, also commonly known as “Contents,” is usually described as any property in or on the insured premises not permanently attached to the building. Naturally, your policy will give you a definition that is more exact that this one, and will also have exclusions about some property that is not covered.

Many property insurance policies have the Replacement Cost (RC) Endorsement on the policy that covers the contents. The claims process for your Contents is the trap laid by the insurance companies. Don’t think that your insurer wouldn’t do that to you…they ALL do it.

Here’s the method of settlement found in all policies with the Replacement Cost Endorsement.

You submit your contents claim inventory. On that inventory you will have listed all of your contents, item by item, and the replacement cost. The insurance company will apply depreciation to each item of your contents, based upon its age and condition. Subtracting the depreciation amount from the replacement cost gives you the Actual Cash Value (ACV) of your property, whether business or personal.

The insurance company settles RC claims by issuing two separate checks. The first check will be for the ACV amount. According to the Loss Conditions in the policy, the insurer only pays you the RC of your contents once the replacement has been made.

For example, if you had an item with an RC value of $1000, and the depreciation amount was 30%, or $300, you would receive the first payment of $700. But, $700 does not replace the item. In order to receive the RC amount you will have to use $300 of your own money plus the $700 paid by the insurance company to make the replacement purchase. Then you are eligible for the second check, the $300 reimbursement.

Now…think about the same example if your entire contents claim is $100,000.

The insurance company “holds back” $30,000. In order for you to make the replacement purchases, you will have to find $30,000 of your own money, make the purchases, and then get reimbursed by the insurance company.

Where are you going to get that $30,000? Savings? Credit Card? Get a loan? Or perhaps you’re like many people that don’t have those cash resources available to them. They cannot make the replacements at all.

Do you see the trap?

Here is a strategy of three things you can do to minimize the effects of the Depreciation Trap.

1. Demand that the insurance company provide you a copy of the Depreciation Tables that they used to calculate your loss.

2. Compare each item, line by line, to be certain that the proper amount of depreciation was assessed by the adjuster.

3. Challenge any and all incorrect depreciation amounts.

By using this three-step strategy, you will maximize your Contents claim amount.

There is another Contents strategy that you MUST use when documenting your Personal Property claim. It relates to the personal property you won’t be replacing.

I knew a family that had a major fire loss. The wife was an attorney for many years. Then, when she had her first child, she decided to leave the business world and be a full-time mom. She had a closet full of expensive business suits, blouses, shoes and accessories. She was not going to replace them, since she was not using them any more for work clothing. So, we worked hard at establishing the highest possible value on her wardrobe. The ACV money that the family was paid for her wardrobe was used to make RC purchases of other items that did need replacing.

You can use this strategy in your Contents claim. Your home, condo, apartment or business is full of personal property that you’ve purchased over the years that (a) is obsolete or (b) you’re not using anymore. A business could have inventory items or office equipment that is unsold or obsolete. In each case, you have every right to be paid the correctly calculated ACV for those items. Then, you can use those dollars to offset the “holdback” amount when you are making your replacement purchases.

Don’t be a pushover! Don’t allow the insurance company to depreciate your Contents without a fight!

Fight back and WIN!

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