United Policyholders has a wonderful website. I strongly encourage others to sign up for its emails and newsletters. For example, United Policyholders sends a monthly "Claims Tips" via email which contains useful tips for policyholders.

The January Claims Tips explained how policyholders can effectively communicate with their insurance company adjusters following a loss. For many policyholders, ineffective communications leads to delayed claims or underpaid claims. The tips provide some practical suggestions that I recommend all claimants consider:

Effectively communicating with your insurance company is an incredibly important part of the claims process. Many insurance companies will try to handle your claim by telephone, with no records. You must make sure that everything in the claim gets documented in writing. How you communicate makes a world of difference in the amount of benefits you collect and how fast you collect them. We recommend that you:

1. Document every communication with your insurance company in a notebook or diary so you can keep track of the status of your claim.

2. Create a paper trail. Confirm representations and promises made in person or over the phone by insurance company personnel by sending them a short follow-up email or letter.

3. Use good grammar, punctuation and capitalization. Promptly respond to letters and requests if they are unreasonable. If they are, say so, in writing.

4. Be proactive: Give your insurer proof of your losses and ask for the dollar amounts you are entitled to. Don’t wait for them to tell you how much they owe you.

5. Use specific instances of improper conduct by your adjuster or insurer as leverage to negotiate the settlement you need. Your diary will come in handy.

6. Don’t mistake a friendly claim adjuster for a friend. Remember you’re in a business negotiation. Keep it professional.

7. Don’t use your insurance company as an outlet to vent frustrations and emotions related to the original cause of your loss.

8. Remember that everything you write and say may be noted in the insurance company’s records. Even if you’re frustrated, avoid saying or writing things that will make you seem uncooperative or the cause of delays or problems.

9. Don’t sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement without consulting with an attorney. Agreeing to an overly broad or premature non-disclosure agreement can significantly reduce your leverage and ability to obtain full policy benefits.

10. Attitude is Everything: Be Polite, Be Prompt, Be Persistent.

This is great advice. I would add to number 9 that a policyholder should never sign a release without first consulting an attorney. Policyholders filing a claim with their own insurance company for a property damage are almost never required to sign a release to obtain payment, unless the matter is in litigation.

The United Policyholders site has hundreds of valuable tips and information about every imaginable type of claim. I consult it on a regular basis and have spent hours reading its seemingly unending library of claims information. Amy Bach, United Policyholders Executive Director, has accumulated and organized a very valuable site for anybody with a claims question or who may be looking to become more involved in the advocacy for policyholders.