our home burns to the ground, and ten shotguns, worth a total of $12,000, are destroyed. A thief breaks into your house and steals shotguns, pistols and rifles. At the clays course, you accidentally leave your shotgun on the tailgate of your pickup, drive down the road and the $7,500 firearm disappears forever.
As bad as all that sounds, the good news is if you have a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy, you could have some coverage for at least two of these losses. The typical policy will cover firearms damaged or destroyed in a house fire and partially compensate the policyholder for guns stolen from the home. An accidental loss, as in the third example, is not, however, covered under most standard homeowner’s or renter’s policies.
Here is the catch. With a typical homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy when firearms are damaged or destroyed in a fire, to get maximum compensation the policyholder should have described, by manufacturer, model and serial number, all the guns in the home. In addition, a picture and appraisal of each firearm should be included if you want full coverage. This information helps establish the actual or replacement value of the guns depending on the particular insurance policy.
For guns stolen from a home, the typical insurance policy will cover the losses, but usually only up to a preset maximum monetary value (in most cases, somewhere between $2,000–$3,000). Any higher compensation requires a specific rider in which each firearm is individually listed with its appraised value. Any gun covered under a rider will, of course, incur a higher premium.
A firearm lost by accident is not covered under most conventional homeowner’s or renter’s policies unless it was listed in a rider that specified this particular kind of peril or hazard. Also called an “inland marine” feature, any personal property that is specifically listed will have more comprehensive coverage within a standard insurance policy.
Tips For Insuring Your Firearms
Although your guns may be covered under the “personal property” part of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy, full compensation on a claim usually requires special attention from the policyholder. Here are some suggestions from insured gun owners, insurance agents and insurance adjustors for getting the maximum amount on any claim for the damage, destruction or loss of your firearms.
Make a list of your firearms with a complete description of each gun, including manufacturer and model, as well as an identifying serial number. In addition, take a photograph of each gun or videotape the whole collection.
Get an appraisal of each firearm. You can use a do–it–yourself method or go to a professional appraiser. For the do–it–yourself approach, visit any website where firearms are listed for sale (gunsamerica.com and gunbroker.com are two huge sites) to find comparative values. Print out the information you find. Check publications like Gun Digest (a bi–weekly tabloid with a wide variety of guns for sale) that advertise guns similar to yours. Search through annual gun price guides that state the value of firearms based on condition (i.e. The Blue Book Of Gun Values or The Standard Catalogue Of Firearms). Write down the source of the information and record the gun values as given in the publication. It’s also good to keep a photocopy of the information in your files.
It is highly recommended you obtain a professional written appraisal from a gun appraiser or gun dealer who can evaluate your firearms according to prices for similar guns presently in the marketplace, personal collections or recent auctions. Most professional appraisers will charge a fee, but I have found the staff in the Gun Library at Cabela’s stores will often give free appraisals on individual guns or small collections.
Meet with your insurance agent to personally review the kinds of coverage you presently have on your firearms under your existing homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Ask in particular if losses are calculated and compensated on “depreciated” or “replacement” value. Ask if you should schedule your firearms for more complete coverage in the case of fire, theft and other hazards. Scheduling under a rider will cost more, of course, but will provide more comprehensive coverage.
Quiz your insurance company’s claims adjustor about the methods used for appraising damaged, destroyed, stolen or lost firearms included in a standard homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Ask how values are determined and how those values compare to dollar figures quoted in the professional appraisals of your own firearms. Inquire about appraisal methods used for scheduled versus non–scheduled guns.
A fire and theft–resistant safe further protects your firearms. Some owners of investment–grade, collectible and antique guns use a high–quality safe as a way to decrease high insurance premiums by reducing the need to schedule every gun. Ask your agent if having guns in a safe will decrease your premiums.
Use the information gathered about your firearms for insurance purposes to help in your estate planning. Instruct your estate executor how your guns should be passed on in the event of your demise.
“The really sad scenario is having all this information about insuring your firearms and then doing nothing about improving your coverage if you need to,” was the opinion of Denny Rowley, a retired insurance agent from Spencer, South Dakota. “I often had clients ask me what they should do to extend coverage on their firearms. I’d give them the facts, then nothing happened in way too many cases,” he added. It takes time and effort to gather your guns together, record serial numbers, write up descriptions, take pictures and establish monetary values, but in the case of a catastrophic fire or devastating theft, this investment of time and effort will pay off and make the loss more bearable.
“Listen to your insurance salesman when buying coverage for your firearms. But also talk to the insurance adjustor to know the real monetary value of your guns if damaged, destroyed, stolen or lost,” shared a gun owner who lost $27,000 worth of shotguns, rifles and pistols in a devastating house fire.
“I had all my clays guns, investment guns and family heirloom guns covered under a rider for each firearm. All were professionally appraised, in writing, with photos. My hunting guns, however, were covered under my homeowner’s policy. All had been described by make and model with serial numbers and digital photos, along with appraisal values I got from gunsamerica.com,” he pointed out. A claim for the destroyed property was submitted and, several weeks later, a check arrived in the amount of $21,700, a lot less than the $27,000 in his claim. He called his insurance agent, who referred him to the company’s insurance adjustor. The adjustor said the reason for the $21,700 figure as the price for the hunting guns was based on “depreciated” rather than “replacement” value. He decided the prices of the scheduled guns had been inflated beyond their actual value, despite the written appraisals from a professional dealer.
To make a long story a little shorter, the gun owner protested the settlement by challenging the adjustor’s method for settling the claim. He hired an attorney who found in the policy the unscheduled guns were covered for replacement not depreciated value. Likewise, the appraised value of the guns were shown to be accurate and, in fact, undervalued in comparison to their probable appreciated value. “I received a check for a satisfactory amount (which I agreed to keep confidential) and my attorney was also compensated by the insurance company in a separate payment,” the gun owner said.
His advice to anyone making a claim for damaged, destroyed or lost firearms covered under any kind of insurance policy is to carefully read the policy and understand the terms and degree of coverage. And, if for any reason you’re not satisfied with the adjustor’s decision, challenge that adjustment.
The values of insured firearms are usually set according to written appraisals provided by qualified gun dealers or firearms collectors with respected professional credentials. All insured guns should be described by make and model, with serial numbers and photos included. For collectible and investment–grade firearms, details about the gun’s age, special features and comparative values should be presented when the policy is written. This is a way to further guarantee full coverage when making a claim.
For clay–bird shooters and game hunters who regularly use their guns and travel to courses and on hunting trips, you may want to consider extra coverage. Sportsman’s Insurance Agency, Inc. offers firearms coverage to supplement standard homeowner’s and renter’s policies. “Take, for example, the prospect of someone stealing your $7,500 shotgun out of the gun rack at a sporting clays tournament,” said Bill Stephens, an agent for Sportman’s Insurance Agency. “Your typical homeowner’s or renter’s policy might not recognize the loss or honor a claim because of the circumstances of the theft.” Some companies will cover such a loss and write a check for the depreciated or replacement value of the gun. If an airline permanently loses your gun or a firearm falls out of the back of your pickup and disappears forever, you may not be covered under your regular policy, so it’s a good idea to ask about that.
Dues–paying members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) may also have an insurance policy for their firearms. Some members have free insurance up to $1,000 for any gun damaged or destroyed in a fire, lost to theft or misplaced and not recovered. NRA members experiencing a loss need to identify the gun, notify the NRA, fill out some paperwork and wait to receive a check for the amount of the claim. More extensive and comprehensive insurance is also available through the NRA but requires scheduling each gun and paying a premium calculated on the appraised value of each firearm. Visit www.nra.org to check on the benefits available to members.
“When I’m dead, I won’t care what happens to my guns,” was one firearm owner’s answer when I asked: “What plans have you made for your guns when you die?” This sort of careless attitude is not typical of most gun owners, but many gun owners have not made specific plans for the fate of their firearms if they are disabled due to an accident or for health reasons or when they die.
“While making up a list of guns for insurance purposes, write up some sort of document that instructs your survivors or estate executor what to do with your firearms if you become disabled or when you’re gone,” advised one attorney I consulted on this subject. His recommendation was to give specific instructions on what should happen to your firearms collection. Should specific guns be given to relatives for sentimental reasons? Should all the firearms be sold, with the proceeds divided among your heirs or put into a special fund for a specific purpose?
If your gun collection is particularly extensive and expensive, how should the guns be sold if a decision is made to sell them? One possibility is to turn over the collection to a trusted gun dealer who, for a percentage commission, will sell the firearms in whatever manner is chosen. Another prospect is to put the guns in an auction where the general public has a chance to bid on them. This may result in higher prices even after the auctioneer’s cut and other associated fees are deducted, but that’s not guaranteed.
Rather than writing descriptions of all your firearms, recording serial numbers and taking still photographs, you can make a video of your collection in which you provide all this information in an audio and visual form. “I did this for 30 or so of my firearms a few years ago,” said Sam Anderson, a hunter and gun collector from Fargo, North Dakota. In the video, he personally presented and described each gun by make, model, serial number and condition.
Included in Sam’s video was the estimated value of each item determined by the going prices for similar guns on the internet, at firearms auctions and gun sale sites, as well as the values indicated in firearms publications. This appraisal method is okay for most ordinary insurance purposes, but a better plan for a more expensive collection would be to bring in a certified gun appraiser to get a more authoritative dollar figure.
“I had the video put on several DVDs — one for myself, one for my insurance agent, one for my attorney and one for the executor of my estate,” Anderson said. He was satisfied with this system because he can easily add more guns if necessary. In time, he plans to add video directions on where the guns should go when he dies. Doing all this, Anderson admits, was a lot of work. “The video is practical but also entertaining. On it, I reminisce about some of the guns I got from deceased relatives, bought from friends or acquired in interesting trades,” he said.
Safes that can protect guns and other valuables are available with varying degrees of fire and theft resistance, sizes to hold half a dozen long guns or 36 or more, and in price ranges from around $50 for a metal, key–lockable cabinet to bank–vault types for $3,500 or more. A low–end safe will only temporarily slow down entry by a dedicated thief with a crow bar and be pretty much a failure in a really hot house fire. High–end safes will deter most thieves and can withstand high–temperature blazes for several minutes, even up to a couple hours. A quality safe, besides protecting guns, is also a good place to keep jewels, legal documents, cash and other valuables. [Editor’s Note: Read Connie Miller’s report on gun safes in the October 2006 issue. Back issues are available by calling 800–676–8920.]
Some safe sales people will say with a high–quality fire and theft–resistant safe, conventional insurance policies are not necessary and a good safe can soon be paid for with the money saved by not scheduling firearms on a written insurance rider. That’s up to the individual to decide. A good safe may be best for gun owners who do not want to publicize the number and kinds of firearms they own by listing them on an insurance policy, but the risk is all on them if that plan does not protect their investment completely.
Water damage is one of the leading causes for claims made under a homeowner’s or renter’s policy. In most cases with standard policies, there is coverage for damage done to guns from water that comes from common in–the–house hazards, such as a sewer backup, broken water pipe or failed sump pump. Not normally covered is damage caused by water from outside the dwelling, such as seepage through the walls and floor or actual flooding caused by a plugged roof gutter, runoff from a big thunderstorm or a rising lake or river that brings water into the dwelling.
Water damage is also a big issue in a fire. The fire department pumps hundreds of gallons into a house to extinguish a blaze. Shotguns and rifles left sitting butt–down in a closet often will be soaked for hours. Wooden stocks absorb moisture and swell. Storing long guns up off the floor on shelves or in an elevated gun cabinet can help to avoid this problem and the need for an insurance claim. Read your homeowner’s or renter’s policy and ask your insurance agent if the particular terms of coverage for water damage cover firearms. Every company has its own unique interpretation of this clause.
Don’t let disaster strike your cherished firearms. A little insurance will go a long way toward assuring you can replace your guns if they are lost, damaged or destroyed. Look into your options today and sleep easier tonight!