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.
It's not always clear from reading your homeowners policy which perils are covered and how much for damages will be paid. It's important to know what your homeowner’s policy covers and, more important, what it doesn't cover.
You might think your insurer will 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.
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.
The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.
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