CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It happens in an instant, often when you least expect it.

The physical work of tornado cleanup is compounded by emotional stress of figuring out what to do next, who to call and how much to pay. The recovery will take months if not years, so it s important to be prepared, especially when it comes to your insurance.

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin sat down with us for a candid question and answer session.

What s the most import thing on your policy?

I would say the deductable. If you don t want to pay too much out of pocket, and then take a close look at this part of your policy to make sure it is in line with your personal financial needs, said Goodwin.

Also be sure you have enough coverage, and be sure to keep records on paper and perhaps video, Goodwin added.

Take an inventory of what you own, he said.

Renter s insurance is cheap and covers almost everything, and it s important because your landlord s policy won t be responsible for your stuff.

Your cars are a separate policy, and likewise, make sure you have enough coverage, and, if you can, document the damage on video. Don t make repairs to your car or your house until your adjuster has been there.

The State Insurance Commission also has these suggestions:

Contact your insurance agent/company. If you suffer property loss in your home or vehicle, contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible to arrange a visit from an adjuster. The Department of Insurance will be in touch with top insurance companies doing business in the state. We will have up-to-date consumer hotline numbers available for those who need contact information for their companies.

Document damage. Before doing any repairs to your home, photograph and make a list of the damage.

Make temporary repairs only. Until you get advice from your insurance company, protect your home from further damage by making temporary repairs only. Save any receipts for materials purchased for repairs.

Agree on cost of permanent repairs. Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected your property, and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs.

Consider renting shelter. If necessary, rent temporary shelter. If your home is uninhabitable, most homeowners policies pay additional living expenses while your property is being repaired. Before renting temporary shelter, check with your insurance company or agent to determine what expenses will be reimbursed.

Find out if food is covered. Unless you have extra coverage with your homeowners policy, food lost in a power outage is probably not covered. Consider purchasing an endorsement to cover food losses in the future.

Check your policy before hiring tree removal services. Most damage to your home or surrounding structures resulting from fallen trees is covered by your homeowners.

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