CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s standard for homeowners to have insurance, but a recent survey found most people have no idea what their policies cover or how to make sure they get the policy’s maximum benefits.

As CBS 2’s Susan Carlson reports, it’s important to know all this before you have an emergency.

Ann Middleman’s home looks great now, but not so long ago she had a water problem, caused by broken pipes under her home.

The plumber’s proposal?

“He said, ‘I think we’re going to have to dig up your floor in the kitchen,’” said Middleman.

She knew to call her insurance company, which brought in an adjustor. She thought she knew what her policy would pay for, too.

“I thought my homeowner’s policy covered anything. You know, something breaks, there’s damage, it’s covered. Not necessarily true,” said Middleman.

A recent insurance industry survey found many Americans don’t understand their coverage, and don’t know what they have coming if there’s a flood, windstorm or some other event.

“About 51 percent believe they are somewhat prepared; about 22 or 23 percent believe they are not prepared at all,” said Robert Rusbuldt of Ind. Insurance Agents and Brokers.

What does being prepared mean?

“They may have talked to an insurance agent or broker about their coverages, or they may have taken videos or pictures of their belongings,” said Rusbuldt.

Rusbuldt says taking pictures and videos of inside and outside your home facilitates the process.

“It makes the claims process go a lot easier. It’ll go much faster if you can prove that you had built-in custom cabinets made in your living room that weren’t there when you purchased the house,” Rusbuldt said.

Also, you need to know what your coverage is for the value of your house.

“Will you get enough money to rebuild your house the same way it was before? Do you have an inflation kicker in your homeowner’s policy? What kind of coverage do you have on your possessions?” Rusbuldt said.

If you don’t know, this is the time to find out. In Ann Middleman’s case, she had to pay for the new pipes, but the insurance covered the repairs to all the other damage. Her advice to others: “Try looking at your policy. I was very surprised.”

Insurance experts also say that if you do have damage, call your insurance company before you start fixing the problem. If you have to make repairs to prevent further damage, make sure you take pictures or videos of the initial problem first.

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