Assignment of Benefits: Consumer Beware
You've just survived a severe storm, or a tornado and you've experienced some extensive damage to your home that requires repairs, including the roof. Your contractor is now asking for your permission to speak with your insurance company using an Assignment of Benefits. Before you sign, read the fine print. Otherwise, you may inadvertently sign over your benefits and any extra money you’re owed as part of your claim settlement.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers information to help you better understand insurance, your risk and what to do in the event you need repairs after significant storm damage.
Be cautious about signing an Assignment of Benefits. An Assignment of Benefits, or an AOB, is an agreement signed by a policyholder that allows a third party—such as a water extraction company, a roofer or a plumber—to act on behalf of the insured and seek direct payment from the insurance company. An AOB can be a useful tool for getting repairs done, as it allows the repair company to deal directly with your insurance company when negotiating repairs and issuing payment directly to the repair company. However, an AOB is a legal contract, so you need to understand what rights you are signing away and you need to be sure the repair company is trustworthy.
- With an Assignment of Benefits, the third party, like a roofing company or plumber, files your claim, makes the repair decision and collects insurance payments without your involvement.
- Once you have signed an AOB, the insurer only communicates with the third party and the other party can sue your insurer and you can lose your right to mediation.
- It's possible the third party may demand a higher claim payment than the insurer offers and then sue the insurer when it denies your claim.
- You are not required to sign an AOB to have repairs completed. You can file a claim directly with your insurance company, which allows you to maintain control of the rights and benefits provided by your policy in resolving the claim.
Be on alert for fraud. Home repair fraud is common after a natural disaster. Contractors often come into disaster-struck regions looking to make quick money by taking advantage of victims.
- It is a good idea to do business with local or trusted companies. Ask friends and family for references.
- Your insurer may also have recommendations or a list of preferred contractors.
- Always get more than one bid on work projects. Your adjuster may want to review estimates before you make repairs.
Immediately after the disaster, have an accurate account of the damage for your insurance company when you file a claim.
- Before removing any debris or belongings, document all losses.
- Take photos or video and make a list of the damages and lost items.
- Save damaged items if possible so your insurer can inspect them, some insurance companies may have this as a requirement in their policy.
Most insurance companies have a time requirement for reporting a claim, so contact your agent or company as soon as possible. Your state insurance department can help you find contact information for your insurance company, if you cannot find it.
- Insurance company officials can help you determine what damages are covered, start your claim and even issue a check to start the recovery process.
- When reporting losses, you will need insurance information, current contact information and a home inventory or list of damaged and lost property. If you do not have a list, the adjuster will give you some time to make one. Ask the adjuster how much time you have to submit this inventory list. The NAIC Post Disaster Claims Guide has details on what you can do if you do not have a home inventory list.
After you report damage to your insurance company, they will send a claims adjuster to assess the damage at no cost to you. An adjuster from your insurance company will walk through and around your home to inspect damaged items and temporary repairs you may have made.
- A public adjuster is different from an adjuster from your insurance company and has no ties to the insurance company.
- They estimate the damage to your home and property, review your insurance coverage, and negotiate a settlement of the insurance claim for you.
- Many states require public adjusters to be licensed. Some states prohibit public adjusters from negotiating insurance claims for you. In those states, only a licensed attorney can represent you.
- You have to pay a public adjuster.
- The NAIC Post Disaster Claims Guide has information on the different types of adjusters.
Once the adjuster has completed an assessment, they will provide documentation of the loss to your insurer to determine your claims settlement. When it comes to getting paid, you may receive more than one check. If the damage is severe or you are displaced from your home, the first check may be an emergency advance. Other payments may be for the contents of your home, other personal property, and structural damages. Please note that if there is a mortgage on your home, the payment for structural damage may be payable to you and your mortgage lender. Lenders may put that money into an escrow account and pay for repairs as the work is completed.
More information. States have rules governing how insurance companies handle claims. If you think that your insurer is not responding in a timely manner or completing a reasonable investigation of your claim, contact your state insurance department.
About the National Association of Insurance Commissioners
As part of our state-based system of insurance regulation in the United States, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provides expertise, data, and analysis for insurance commissioners to effectively regulate the industry and protect consumers. The U.S. standard-setting organization is governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer reviews, and coordinate regulatory oversight. NAIC staff supports these efforts and represents the collective views of state regulators domestically and internationally.