Non-Profit Advocacy Groups may NOT be your best option
(Distributed for Public Information and Comment)
Non-profit groups usually have a leader and some volunteers. Some homeowners with property claims may decide to accept guidance and “free” information, which may possibly help them learn how to prepare, present and negotiate their property claim with the insurance company. To promote their agenda, a few may make statements claiming something like “With the Internet at your fingertips and advocacy groups ready to help, all you will really need to settle your claim is available for free.” Doesn’t common sense suggest that anything “free” either is: perhaps not really “free”, or worth what you pay for it? Non-profits often request donations (some more frequently than others) from those homeowners to further their efforts… and their agenda.
They may claim that you’ll get everything that you need from them in order to settle your claim equitably… for “free”, because of their experience and expertise around the insurance settlement process, construction, or whatever. Some drawbacks are: they aren’t licensed/tested/trained or regulated by any State in this profession as a Public Adjuster is, they can’t represent you, they are not required to take any “Continuing Education” in property insurance or claims adjusting, and they can’t practice law. If any of these needs does arise, then you probably should hire a State-licensed Public Adjuster for your claim, or an Attorney for a “bad faith” or “unfair claim practice” lawsuit, or possibly even other licensed professionals. And that is usually a pretty big “IF”.
Unfortunately, you still need to document your loss. It was your home, and you’ll still have to provide from memory or sift through debris to determine what you had. You might find yourself doing much more paperwork than you bargained for. And experience tells us oftentimes that the work they suggest you do may not end up settling your claim equitably, without a lawsuit.
Even with the advocacy group guiding you, it is you who still must be 100 percent involved in the process. Only you know the true extent of your loss, you still need to document your loss (it was your home), and you’ll still have to reconstruct from memory all that you’ve lost. An advocacy group may offer to give you the “inside dope” on the insurance claims settlement process, but most homeowners aren’t prepared, or educated in this arena, to properly complete the paperwork themselves and to negotiate settlements.
After all, if you trained someone for a week or two in your profession or your job, could they competently compete with you the following week, or would they still need significant further training, and a lot of “on the job” experience? That’s what you’re trying to do when you don’t have actual representation for your claim. And there are many pitfalls, and mud puddles, just waiting for you.
A few such non-profit groups may, before the end of one year from the date of your loss, suggest that you really should retain an attorney before some statutory time limit runs out. And this will cost you a significant fee to you, in order to obtain what you are entitled to be paid. They then may present a couple of particular law firms that the non-profit strongly suggests to you are the most experienced, and best prepared, to provide a likely successful outcome in a lawsuit against your insurance company.
Be very careful to determine if the non-profit advocacy group’s leader has a licensed profession, such as an attorney. It is completely legal for attorneys to share fees with another licensed attorney, or to receive significant consulting fees for reviewing individual claims for another law firm. It may be a good idea to consider if their agenda is only to give you “free” help.
Also, if you’ve have a loss that exceeds your policy limit, you may be told “… a public adjuster will not be able to get you more money without involving legal assistance.” That is simply not true, and this is common knowledge. There are public adjusters who have successfully worked with policyholders, then presented a well-documented “Under-Insurance” claim to the homeowner’s insurance company, which resulted in negotiating the insurer into “reforming” the policy limits. This means to remove and quite significantly increase the Dwelling and other subordinate policy limits, to what they really should have been for that property.
It is a good idea to see how far you can get on your own before becoming deeply involved with a non-profit advocacy group or hiring any professional. It is entirely possible that by rather religiously following some non-profit advocacy groups’ recommended tips and courses of action, that you may find yourself and your family ending up retaining, and paying a significant fee to, a law firm suggested to you by that non-profit advocacy group. Do you really want to get, or even consider getting, involved in a lawsuit?
If you are still thinking about working with and following the guidance of an advocacy group, please consider the following:
1. Disregard the sales pitch. A big portion of your family’s future financial security depends on the skill and knowledge of the volunteers giving you the “free” help. Select such a group as carefully as you would your Doctor, Public Insurance Adjuster, Lawyer, CPA or Investment Counselor. Check out their leader’s qualifications, licensing (especially any lawsuits and/or complaints ongoing against them) with their licensing State’s appropriate licensing department and/or that State’s “bar association” (if they’re a licensed attorney). Often, such leaders are actually licensed Attorneys, so this is quite appropriate. You may even check them out individually on the web using “Google”, “Ask”, or other such search engine.
2. A Public Adjuster is your State’s licensed and recognized professional for 1st party property claims. They will assist, and most importantly represent, policyholders with their claims. The Public Adjuster is always subject to the ongoing approval of the policyholder throughout the claim, will prepare/present/negotiate such claims, and present all such resulting insurance company offers of settlement obtained, to the policyholder, for their approval and acceptance or rejection.
3. Insurance company adjusters and claim representatives may become much more stringent with the policy requirements once a non-profit advocacy group’s guidance and orchestration becomes evident. While not necessarily the fault of the non-profit advocacy group, this result can place an extra burden on the homeowner, who must now be ever more detailed, documented, and vigilant in proceeding with the settlement process.
4. The non-profit group – NOT YOU – may indirectly begin to and essentially take over the actual control your claim, if you diligently following their guidance and direction.
5. They may well select, or strongly recommend, the “experts” whom you hire and allow to determine your claim’s values.
6. They may “sell you and your claim short” because of a heavy workload with too many disaster survivors from one particular disaster, or they may even leave your area after a short time because of another, larger disaster and opportunity.
7. They CAN NOT provide legal representation and/or handle legal issues regarding your claim.
8. Their leader, whom you initially met with, may be more of a “salesperson” and your claim efforts may shortly be guided by a different, and much less experienced, volunteer.
9. Insurance companies WILL NOT repay you for donations made to such a non-profit group.
Use the following strategies and information to protect your rights and your results:
1. Obtain significant “ACV” payments for your Dwelling, Other Structures, Trees & Shrubs, and Contents on your own. If you decide to hire a licensed Public Adjuster, limit the contract to only the funds you have not, or could not get on your own.
2. Be certain the public adjuster whom you retain will actually stay involved (at least) in supervising, over-viewing, and
orchestrating your claim’s processing. As with retaining an attorney for a lawsuit, who simply obtains your agreement on their retainer and then tells you why they need to turn it over to another law firm (for a shared % of their fee), this is
something that you at least need to be made aware of, and knowingly agree to being done. It is your claim… not theirs.
3. Make sure you have a very experienced and licensed Public Adjuster or other State-licensed “professional” to review all Proofs of Loss and other important documents required by the insurance company or their adjuster to be signed by you.
4. Avoid working with a non-profit group unless you are convinced that they AND their leader will be there for you, until your claim has been resolved satisfactorily. Otherwise, if they “wind you up and send you out” to handle your claim on your own, you may then run into any number of stumbling blocks during the claim, and find out that they’re gone.
If you have any reservations, then common sense may well tell you that your best course of action would be either to:
Go it on your own” until at least you:
- can’t recover further significant claim payments, or run into the proverbial “brick wall” for whatever reason, or
- have received a settlement offer (which should be reviewed by a licensed Public Adjuster), or
- were told that you have been paid all that you’re owed, or
- you’re about ready “to give up”, take whatever, and then just walk away.
Then it’s probably time to hire a licensed Public Adjuster to obtain what you weren’t able to.
Of course you may consider retaining a Public Adjuster to work with you from early on, but you will pay them a fee on most if not all of your claim recovery proceeds, even what has already been paid to you. However, if you’re:
infirm, not able to handle significant pressure/stress, traveling/tied up too much to properly handle your own claim,
or you feel that you must have someone guide you with claim-related decisions and choices,
you may then find it to be in your best interests to have a licensed Public Adjuster review your claim’s status now.