Perception: Even though you’re paying for homeowners insurance, you probably hope you won’t have to use it. Short of a break-in, exploding pipes, or a kitchen inferno, you probably will go years without needing to ring up your agent. Right?
Reality: not necessarily. And this is a good thing, trust us. Whether you’re planning a wedding or fighting off rabid dogs, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that homeowners insurance policies often cover a lot more than you might think. So make sure you aren’t missing out!
Although it’s a long shot that we’ll have aliens paying visits to our hometowns anytime soon, you might be delighted to hear that if E.T. is a lousy driver and crashes through your roof, you won’t have to worry about repair fees. Nor will you have to if (in a slightly less long-shot scenario) your house gets hit by a meteor, satellite, or falling plane part.
According to the verbiage in insurance policies, space debris is covered under a standard homeowners policy, says Rachael Risinger, a spokeswoman for the insurance company State Farm.
“Our losses insured section mentions both ‘falling objects’ and ‘aircraft,’ which includes self-propelled missiles [meteors] and spacecraft,” Risinger says.
So if you see a low-flying blimp headed straight for your roof deck, don’t panic. OK, maybe you should panic, but not too much.
You’re planning to walk down the aisle in your backyard, but a torrential storm or tornado is slated to tear through on that very day. Now what?
All is not lost; the costs related to relocating the affair may be covered, says Loretta Worters, vice president of communications with the Insurance Information Institute.
But check your policy carefully: If you’re planning to have an open bar, that can put your coverage in jeopardy, so consider adding a “special event” policy. Also, check to make sure your liability limits are high enough, Worters notes.
“When throwing a wedding, a safe bet is to get a wedding insurance policy, along with a liquor liability policy if you are serving drinks,” Worters says. If you serve booze to someone who’s drunk (hmm, what are the odds?) and then that person gets in a car and hurts someone, you will be liable. A liquor policy can protect you in that situation (and you might want to appoint a key master, as well).
“Not only will this insurance cover them if someone gets injured at the home and sues, but it can cover the costs of a no-show photographer, severe weather that prevents the wedding from taking place, and any unexpected illnesses or injuries that affect the bride, groom, and important family members.”
Cold feet? That’s a whole separate policy.
Your college kid’s dorm room
Your teen calls at midnight freaking out because her laptop has been stolen from her dorm. If she lives at home while not at school, there’s a good chance her property is covered. But before you send your proud scholar off into the real world, check with your insurer for coverage limits and deductibles. If your teen plans to take pricey electronics, musical instruments, or sports equipment with him, consider a renters or personal articles policy for additional protection.
So Humbert the hovawart isn’t the neighborhood’s friendliest pooch? Well, if your dog bites someone, you’re probably covered by the liability portion of your homeowners insurance. That said, a lot will depend on your insurer, as some exclude coverage for breeds that are deemed potentially dangerous. Others determine risk based on a dog’s bite history, rather than the breed. So check with your insurance company before bringing home that new furry family member, especially if he has big teeth.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
If a deer damages your fence or some rascally raccoons destroy your kitchen, that doesn’t mean these critters should have the last laugh. For the most part, a standard homeowners policy would provide coverage for exterior and interior damage done to a home by a wild animal, Risinger says. This would include things like torn siding, shattered windows or doors, fences or damaged furniture, should the critters get inside. Just keep in mind the common exceptions like boats, swimming pools, or hot tubs, which may require a separate policy.
Libel and defamation suits
Is someone badmouthing you big time? Then you may be able to join the ranks of Former President Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson, both of whom fell back on liability coverage through their homeowners insurance to foot the bill for their legal fees in their libel suits (brought by Paula Jones and the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, respectively).
The liability portion of your homeowners policy pays for both the cost of defending you in court and any court awards—up to the limit stated in your policy documents.
“Even if the claims may be false, the insurer can be obliged to pay for the attorneys’ fees and expenses necessary to defend the claims,” explains Worters. “The insurer may also have an obligation to contribute toward a reasonable settlement of the claims.”
Finally, isn’t it nice to know that your homeowners insurance policy also has your back after you or your beloved family members are 6 feet under? That’s right, gravestones, urns, mausoleums, and other funerary items are generally considered “valuables” under most homeowners insurance policies, and are covered for losses such as for weather damage and theft.
So if your late spouse’s gravestone cracks in an ice storm or suffers some irreparable Halloween night vandalism, check your policy, which may cover you anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. Even if you—the policyholder—pass on, your insurance may remain to help out your own surviving family members. Consider it a little going-away gift!
Liz Alterman is a writer who's covered a variety of subjects, from personal finance issues for CNBC.com to career advice for The Muse. Her hobbies include reading, baking, and failed attempts at gardening.