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Buying a house can be stressful enough, but when you have to think about how to insure it, your stress level goes even higher. Now imagine you're disabled or elderly and you need to make modifications to improve accessibility. 

What's the best way to handle insurance when your home has handicapped-accessibility enhancements? Knowledge. Know what questions to ask and to whom you ask them. Then, the insurance process can be a little less daunting.

Megan MacBey, account executive at Eagle Insurance Group, LLC, in Massachusetts, said the only additional home insurance coverage you need is to increase coverage for your home if you have modifications. These modifications may include an electric stair chair lift or an updated bathroom that might consist of a roll-in shower and a raised toilet.

"The only thing you would need to do is increase the dwelling value. Make sure you have the exact cost of the upgrades or modifications," she said.

Personal property and rider

You may also want to increase your personal property coverage. Items such as mobility scooters or electric wheelchairs are considered personal property. Depending on the value of each item, you may or may not get a replacement cost should something happen.

"Something like a scooter is personal property and if it's under your deductible amount, it's covered, but they wouldn't pay out,” she said. 

More expensive items, such as an electric wheelchair, which can run upward of $10,000, would be covered but would be subject to the deductible. An add-on policy called a rider could benefit homeowners with more expensive items, such as medical devices. It would be additional coverage and would not be subject to your deductible.

You want accurate values for specialized items and when you customize your home. If those items get damaged, you’ll want to get coverage for the full replacement cost and not actual cash value. Actual cash value reimburses you what the covered item was worth at the time of loss. That includes the years of wear and tear.
Replacement cost, on the other hand, pays you what it costs to replace the item. Prices change over the years so make sure you list the replacement cost -- not just the cost of the items. Find out more about replacement cost vs. actual cash value

One way to do this is by buying an inflation guard endorsement. This will allow coverage to increase as inflation ticks up. It'll save you the headache of being short on money to replace items if you need to file a claim. 

Other steps you can take to protect your items include the same advice for any homeowner:

  • Keep an inventory list of items.
  • Record pictures or videos of the items.
  • Keep receipts as well as any paperwork for the items.
  • Keep the phone numbers and contact information for service providers in a safe place.

Liability coverage

Property isn't the only thing that needs to be taken into account when insuring your home with disability modifications. Liability coverage can also be an issue.

Let’s say you have a stair chair lift. To work the chair, you must install a track along one side of the stairs from top to bottom. The chair is pushed to the side to allow walkers to move past it, but what if someone trips on it while at your house? 

Another possibility -- What if you have a handicap ramp that takes you to your deck but is a little precarious for those not used to it? If someone trips or gets injured are you, the homeowner, at fault?

In both cases, MacBey said the homeowner doesn’t usually need extra insurance. 

"Your liability will pick-up the exposure. You don't need a rider, but you could look into an umbrella for additional coverage,” MacBey said. 

The typical homeowners policy will have about $300,000 in liability coverage. An umbrella policy can insure your home for $1 million or more.

To avoid any issues with people getting hurt in your home, use common sense. Make sure to tuck away medical devices and other items, such as walkers, canes and commodes. Don’t leave them in high-traffic areas where a visitor could trip on them. 

Home health aides and nurses

Another thing to consider involves home health aides and nurses. If you get visits from these professionals, ask them if they’re insured. It’s a good idea to only work with professional caregivers who are insured. 

It will save you a lot of headaches and money should anything ever happened.

The bottom line is to be honest and upfront when it comes to home insurance. Carolyn Assa, director of communications at the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation, said people should tell their insurers about any home modifications. That will help you if you need to file a claim later. 

"Additional coverage needs may cause your premium to increase. Consumers should discuss their coverage options with their agent or insurance company, be sure to understand the difference between replacement cost and actual cash value and shop around for lower rates,” Assa said. 

Find out more about other types of insurance and disabilities: 

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