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Assessing Portfolio Performance: Choose Your Benchmarks Wisely
Estate Planning Strategies in a Low-Interest-Rate Environment
Are There Gaps in Your Insurance Coverage?
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Are There Gaps in Your Insurance Coverage?

Buying insurance is about sharing or shifting risk. For example, health insurance will cover some of the cost of medical care. Homeowners insurance will assume some of the risk of loss in the event your home is damaged or destroyed. But oftentimes we think we're covered for specific losses when, in fact, we're not. Here are some common coverage gaps to consider when reviewing your own insurance coverage.

Life insurance

In general, you want to have enough life insurance coverage (when coupled with savings and income) to allow your family to continue living the lifestyle to which they're accustomed. But changing circumstances may leave a gap in your life insurance coverage.

For example, if you have life insurance through your employer, changing jobs could affect your insurance coverage. You may not have the same amount of insurance, or the policy provisions may differ. Whereas your prior employer may have provided permanent life insurance, now you may have term insurance that will expire on a predetermined date. Review your income, savings, and expenses annually and compare them to your insurance coverage, and be mindful that changing circumstances may require a change in the amount of insurance coverage.

Homeowners insurance

It's not always clear from reading your homeowners policy which perils are covered and how much damage will be paid for. It's important to know what your homeowners policy covers and, more important, what it doesn't cover.

You might think your insurer would pay the full cost to replace your home if it were destroyed by a covered occurrence. But many policies place a cap on replacement cost up to the face amount stated on the policy. You may want to check with a building contractor to get an idea of the replacement cost for your home, then compare it to your policy to be sure you have enough coverage.

Even if your policy states that "all perils" are covered, most policies carve out many exceptions or exclusions to this general provision. For example, damage caused by floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes may be covered only by special addendums to your policy, or in some cases by separate insurance policies altogether. Also, your insurer may not cover the extra cost of rebuilding attributable to more stringent building codes, or your policy may limit how much and how long it will pay for temporary housing while repairs are made.

To avoid these gaps in coverage, review your policy annually with your insurer. Also, pay attention to notices you may receive. What may look like boilerplate language could actually be significant changes to your coverage. Don't rely on your interpretations--seek an explanation from your insurer or agent.

Auto insurance

Which drivers and what vehicles are covered by your auto insurance? Most policies provide coverage for you and family members residing with you, but it's not always clear-cut. For instance, a child who is living in a college dorm is probably covered, but a child who lives in an off-campus apartment might be excluded from coverage. If you and your spouse divorce, which policy insures your children, particularly if they are living with each parent at different times of the year? Notify your insurer about any change in living arrangements to avoid a gap in coverage.

Other gaps include no coverage for damaged batteries, tires, and shocks. And you might not be covered for stolen or damaged cell phones or other electronic devices. Your policy may also limit the amount paid for a rental while your vehicle is being repaired.

In fact, insurance coverage for rental cars may also pose a problem. For instance, your own collision coverage may apply to the rental car you're driving, but it may not pay for all the damage alleged by a rental company, such as loss of use charges. If you're leasing a car long term, your policy may cover the replacement cost only if the car is a total loss or is stolen. But that amount may not be enough to pay for the outstanding balance of your lease. Gap insurance can cover any difference between what your insurer pays and the balance of your lease.

Policy terms and conditions aren't always easily understood, and you may not be sure what's covered until it's time to file a claim. So review your insurance policy to be sure you've filled all the gaps in your coverage.

If you own a condo, your association's property insurance may leave gaps in coverage. For example, most association insurance doesn't cover your furniture, wall coverings, electronics, interior walls, and structural improvements made to the interior of your unit. Review your condo documents, particularly the association's master deed, its by-laws, rules and regulations, which may describe those parts of your unit the association insurance covers, and which parts you may need to insure.

 
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