When High Winds and Old Trees Collide: What Does That Mean to Your Insurance?

There’s an old nursery rhyme that reminds us that March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers. Just as the unknown poet says, early spring can bring more than the beauty of blooming flowers. High winds and unpredictable weather are a hallmark of spring in the United States. If the past weekend’s high winds are any indication, spring may be ahead of schedule this year!
The greatest danger in high winds is the damage that they can cause to trees. High winds cost millions of dollars each year, mostly through fallen branches and trees. Even if a tree doesn’t land on your house or car, cleanup can be costly, which is yet another good reason to make sure that you, the homeowner, have a sufficient emergency fund available. If a tree or branch does fall on your house or car, what should you do? Call your independent insurance agent immediately.
Many people believe that if the affected tree was originally on their neighbors’ property, the neighbor should be the one to call, since their insurance will pay for it. This is not true. Your homeowners or car insurance policy will cover the damage regardless of who owned the tree. The Insurance Information Institute says “In most cases, an insurance company is not going to spend time trying to figure out where a tree or other item originally came from.” Even if there’s clear evidence, rather than accusing your neighbor, you can leave the bickering to the insurance companies, who may try to collect from the neighbor’s insurance company in a process called subrogation.
However, while nobody can guarantee that a bad storm won’t cause damage, healthy, well maintained trees are much less likely to succumb to storms. What can you do to protect your property against fallen trees and branches? Keep an eye on all your trees to make sure trees are healthy with this handy checklist. If you’re not sure, it’s always a good idea to have an expert opinion, so consider an expert tree inspection. If you’re not sure who to call in your area, the International Society of Arborists maintains national lists of certified arborists. This initial consultation with an arborist, particularly for first time home buyers, can save thousands later on.
If the worst happens and your roof has a large limb or tree on it, don’t try to fix it yourself! Call your insurance agent immediately and then call in a professional. If the tree limb has gone through the ceiling, you’ll want to make sure that the contents of the house are secure. Remove everything from the affected room and seal the area off from children and pets.

Tax season prep: be sure to factor losses in

Everyone’s favorite time of year, tax deadline, is rapidly approaching. While there are still a few weeks left before it’s time to get out the balloons and party hats, it’s always a good idea to be over rather than under prepared for your yearly taxes. As you’re thinking about the past year, make sure to consider any property losses you may have incurred in 2011. Many people up and down the East Coast suffered losses due to Hurricane Irene, which was by most estimates one of the top ten most destructive and deadly hurricanes to hit the United States since 1980. Irene was a tragedy, but the silver lining is that according to the IRS, losses may well be deductible.
Keeping the terminology clear may help you understand which losses are deductible and which are not. Remember, a casualty occurs when your property is damaged as a result of a disaster such as a storm, fire, car accident or similar event. A theft occurs when somebody steals your property. A loss on deposits occurs when your financial institution becomes insolvent or bankrupt. Any losses incurred as a result of hurricane damage are considered casualties, particularly since Hurricane Irene was one of the many federally recognized disasters in 2011.
However, while losses are deductible, it’s important to know that if you have insurance, you must have filed a timely insurance claim. Any reimbursement you received from insurance must be taken into account and subtracted when figuring your loss. This includes any expected reimbursement even if you have not yet received it. This booklet on Casualties, Disasters & Theft from the IRS (PDF) will help you decide if the casualty, loss and theft deductions apply to you.
Taxes are never fun, but being prepared for all eventualities helps whether the disaster is a hurricane or a Form 1040. Make sure your accountant is aware of any losses you may have suffered in 2011.

Showing the love, insurance style

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The Insurance Information Institute (III) is showing the love this Valentine’s Day, insurance style. They’ve created a themed Pinterest board to celebrate the day. For those of you not up on your social media trends, Pinterest is the popular “virtual pinboard” that lets you clip and share things you find on the web.
III has gathered some fun images and reminders about showing your love, insurance style… such as making sure that any expensive gifts are insured and practicing safe shopping when making online purchases for your sweethearts.
They also posted a series of three quirky video clips – life insurance promoted by fruit flies. Yes, fruit flies – you will have to watch them to see for yourself. This is part of an informational campaign called Insure Your Love, which is sponsored by the Life Foundation, ostensibly to create some buzz (ahem) around life insurance. If you are wondering what life insurance has to do with fruit flies, you can learn more at Fruit Fly Q&A, which features more clips with Frank and Fran, the stars of the fruit fly campaign.

Valentine’s Day: Stolen hearts are one thing, but stolen jewelry is no fun

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Valentine’s Day is a tradition going back to 496 A.D, with its actual origins tracing back to St. Valentine’s execution 269 AD for marrying couples against the mandate of the Roman Emperor. Since then, Valentine’s Day has become a gold mine for retailers. According to the US Census Bureau, jewelry stores sold $2.27 billion in merchandise in February 2011. While that number might seem staggering, the National Retail Federation is expecting jewelry sales to hit $4.1 billion this year. Their survey results show that over eight in ten men are expected to buy jewelry for their significant other this year, the highest amount their survey has ever reported, leading to the purchase of lots of expensive jewelry that could easily become lost or stolen.
Contributing to “the big spend” is the fact that Valentine’s Day is the third most popular time for couples to get engaged, lagging behind only Christmas and New Years. According to a survey conducted by Bride’s Magazine last year, the average cost of a wedding ring is $4,647. In today’s tough economic times that would not be easy to replace, nor would any of the other lavish gifts couples buy this time of year.
Jewelry is popular with thieves
If you do splurge for the holiday, or have a lot of expensive jewelry lying around already, it might not be a bad idea to investigate your insurance options. Most burglars are looking for accessible items of value that can be easily transported, making jewelry a prime target since items are often left out or kept in easy-to-grab jewelry boxes. The Insurance Information Institute offers the warning that jewelry and other expensive gifts may only have minimal coverage under standard homeowners insurance policies and offers tips for how to properly insure your valuables.

Super Bowl replicas from deli meats & Twinkies & other good party ideas

Looking for some last minute ideas to wow your Super Bowl party guests on Sunday? Why not try your hand at creating a Super Bowl stadium replica from deli meats or from Twinkies? Check the link for a few other samples to give you some creative inspiration.
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If food platter architecture is a little more than you feel you can tackle (ahem), maybe you might consider something along the lines of a Super Bowl themed cakes, cookies or sandwiches. Also check the Food Network’s Big Game Bash page and Winning Super Bowl Recipes from AllYou. We particularly like the look of these football shaped peanut butter swirl brownies.
Have fun, but remember – Super Bowl Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk
Everyone loves a party, but don’t let fun run away with you. Our best party tip is to remind you that it’s important to be responsible hosts so that you or your guests don’t end up in the local headlines on the day after. Rest assured, law enforcement and DUI patrols will be doing double duty to catch impaired drivers. And if you are a party host, you may have liability if your guests drink and drive.
The NFL, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and other groups have all teamed up to raise awareness about drunk driving in a Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk campaign. This site offers two guides of safety precautions and tips, one for if you’re a Super Bowl party host and the other if you’re a party guest at one. In both situations it is important to take precautions for the safety of everybody.
Other safety tips and advice for hosting parties, planning for designated drivers, and more can be found at the HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers.