Home owners whose properties were damaged by a hurricane will likely be visited by insurance adjusters who will decide how their claims are settled.

Adjusters are licensed by states to assess damage. Some adjusters work for the insurance company while others work on a temporary basis for your insurance company to help it handle claims after a natural disaster.

More: All About Disaster insurance
Dealing With Water Damage

Claims visits are arranged by the severity of the damage, so it is important to provide your insurer with an accurate description of your property damage. Policyholders who have been most severely impacted or have immediate financial or safety concerns will be a priority for the insurance company as well as those with a family member with special needs.

Many claims adjusters have special disaster recovery expertise, and it’s common for insurance companies to deploy these individual experts for complex claims, such as those involving considerable structural damage due to wind, damage due to flooding, and the destruction of a majority of personal property within the home.

Some people choose to hire public adjusters to handle their claim. Public adjusters work for you and you pay them by sharing a percentage of your claim amount. Many people choose to engage the services of a public adjuster when they have limited time to manage their own claim.

If you have flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program, you’ll likely have to work with at least two adjusters: one adjuster representing your home owners insurance company, who will process wind-related damage, and another representing the NFIP, who will handle damage from flooding.

Keep in mind that if you disagree with the settlement amount of your claim, your policy allows for an independent appraisal of the loss. In this case, both you and your insurance company hire independent appraisers who choose a mediator. You and your insurance company each pay for your appraiser and share the other costs. The decision of any two of these three people is binding. However, disputes rarely get to this stage.

To help you prepare for the claims process:

Make sure your insurance company knows how to reach you. Provide your cell phone number and backup contacts, if they are available. If at all possible, you should try to meet the claims adjuster at your property, providing it is safe to do so.

Complete a Proof of Loss form in advance and bring home inventory documents. The more information you have about your damaged possessions, the faster your claim will be settled. If you completed a home inventory in advance of the storm, this will be a valuable tool as you will need to make a list of all damaged items to give your claims adjuster.

This will include make and model numbers of your possessions, purchase dates and the price you paid. Most insurers have home inventory forms you can use to complete this step. You will also want to make a list of any damage you want to show the adjuster.

Photograph debris or destroyed items and ask your insurer if debris can be removed. Generally, you should not throw away any damaged items until the claims adjuster has visited. It is also a good idea to photograph or take video of the property damage. Many insurers have the ability to accept this photographic documentation online.

Know that the first claims check you receive is often an advance, not a final settlement. You may be offered a settlement check from the adjuster on the initial visit. If so, you can accept it immediately and, if other damage is discovered within the timeframe stated in your insurance policy, the claim can be reopened.

Most states allow at least one year from the date of the disaster to file or reopen a claim, and some states allow more time. You may receive three separate checks from your insurer: one for damage to the structure, one for losses related to personal belongings, and a third check for additional living expenses that you incur while your home is being repaired.

The time it takes to complete the claims process depends on the extent of the damage and the availability of contractors and resources to repair your home. Once you have reported your claim, you can check on its status with your insurer by phone or online.

Source: Insurance Information Institute