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Will Your Homeowners Policy Cover a Holiday Disaster?

Holiday cards,tea and fruit on a table

By Betsy Vereckey

The holiday season is a wonderful time to have some fun at the end of the year, whether that includes buying gifts online for loved ones, decorating your home or trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Unfortunately, however, accidents are all too common during the holiday season. The good news is that with the right insurance coverage, you can minimize unnecessary financial damage and gain greater peace of mind.

One important tip to remember: A standard homeowners insurance policy doesn't always cover every single disaster. Read on for six mishaps that may or may not be covered—you may be surprised

  1. Your soufflé catches on fire and burns your kitchen.

    Covered? Yes!

    Accidents in the kitchen are incredibly common during the holidays. In fact, The National Fire Protection Association says that home fires caused by cooking peak at Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Unattended cooking is often the leading cause of cooking fires.) A standard homeowners policy covers damage due to fire, but it's a good idea to make sure that the amount of the policy is sufficient. The Insurance Information Institute says that when purchasing coverage, be sure that you have enough coverage for the worst-case scenario (needing to rebuild your entire home, for instance).

  2. You pour cooking oil grease down the drain and clog the sewer.

    Covered? No!

    Be careful what you pour down your kitchen sink. Most homeowners policies do not cover damage caused by sewage backup; you'd have to purchase this type of coverage separately, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

    To dispose of grease properly, pour your used cooking oil into a heat-resistant container and throw it away. Washing grease down the drain can cause it to solidify in the drain or clog the main sewer line.

  3. A burglar breaks into your home and steals all your gifts.

    Covered? Yes!

    Theft is covered under a standard homeowners policy, and it includes coverage for jewelry and other precious items. That said, be sure to check the limit of liability for theft on your policy. The Insurance Information Institute says this limit is usually around $1,500, which means that the insurer will not pay more than the amount specified in the policy for any given piece of jewelry or other valuable item.

    So if you have an expensive engagement ring lying around, you might want to raise the limit of the liability or purchase a floater policy. The latter option is usually more expensive, but it offers the broadest protection for your valuables. And don't forget to have items professionally appraised first.

  4. Your dog knocks your expensive crystal punch bowl off the coffee table.

    Covered? No!

    Sadly, there is generally no coverage for personal property, such as furniture or furnishings, if your belongings are damaged by your own pet when he's not a very good boy. In fact, no matter what kind of animal does the damage (even if an owl flies into your home through an open window), your personal property won't be covered by a homeowners policy, the Insurance Information Institute says.

    However, if you decide to take Fido to a friend's house, and he destroys their property, you'd be covered if you had homeowners liability insurance.

  5. The mail person slips on your driveway while dropping off all your packages.

    Covered? Yes!

    Most homeowners policies provide liability coverage to safeguard you against lawsuits in the event of physical injury. Don't forget medical bills, however. Check to see how much money your policy provides. Liability limits generally start at about $100,000, but you can add on more coverage using umbrella liability protection, which will kick in when your standard coverage runs out.

  6. An outdoor tree covered in tinsel and lights catches fire.

    Covered? Yes!

    Under a standard homeowners policy, trees and plants are covered (generally up to about $500 per item). Be sure to check your policy to see how much coverage you have in the event of fire, theft, lightning or vandalism, especially if you plan on decorating your outside space this year.

    It's always hard to imagine that something can go wrong—until it does. So before your guests arrive this year, take the time to check your homeowners policy to see what it covers and what it doesn't. You'll be glad you did.