Here are eight tips for using tact and good manners when discussing insurance.
Never ask who was at fault
It's a major faux pas to ask who was at fault when a friend tells you he or she filed an insurance claim for a car accident or a household mishap. Sure you're curious, but imagine how bad your friend will feel if he or she is at fault. So keep your curiosity in check. If someone wants you to know they caused an accident, they'll tell you.
Be diplomatic when asking relatives about their life insurance
Use your very best diplomacy when asking a relative if you are one of his or her life insurance beneficiaries. Money often goes unclaimed because the beneficiaries are unaware of policies, so asking is not inappropriate. However, it remains a delicate task that requires sensitivity.
If you have a close relationship, the relative likely will want you to know how to claim your life benefits. The more details you have about the policy, the easier this will be. However, you'll need to be careful not to give the impression that you are anxiously waiting to collect your cash.
Keep your temper after a traffic accident
You may be shook up following a car wreck, but this is no time to lose your temper. Keep your wits about you and gather pertinent information for your insurance company. Don't berate the other driver, even if you believe the collision was his or her fault. This won't help you recover from your loss and it may make it difficult to get the driver's insurance information.
"You never know who you are dealing with," says David Ostrove, a professor at Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles. "You may be dealing with someone who is not stable. Nobody did it on purpose. It is a bad thing and why make it worse?"
Exercise restraint when taking photographs
If you are in a car accident, it's natural to be concerned about your insurance claim. Any photos you take may be useful in establishing what happened. Because most cellphones come equipped with cameras, you likely will have the means to take pictures immediately following a wreck. Just remember that your first concern always should be taking care of anyone who has been injured.
Don't snap away with your digital camera if someone is hurting and needs your help, says Peter Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC). "No. 1 is assess the situation," he says. "I would also call the police if there is an injury."
Don't ask the size of insurance payouts
You may be curious to find out how much money someone received from an insurance payout, but get a grip. If they volunteer the information, fine, but otherwise give your friends and acquaintances the privacy they deserve. If someone has come into money because of the death of a relative, questions about insurance benefits can be hurtful. No one ever can be adequately compensated for the loss of a loved one.
Tell your spouse what you're up to
It's not uncommon for life insurance policyholders to change beneficiaries, removing the name of a spouse, child or another close relative from their policy. Generally, a policy owner has the right to do this without notifying anyone. As long as you have not designated irrevocable beneficiaries or assigned an interest in your policy, you should have the freedom to change beneficiaries.
However, if you don't want to be remembered for being a jerk, it's best to inform people -- particularly spouses - before you take them off your policy. Those kinds of unpleasant surprises are definitely bad insurance etiquette.
Don't say 'I'm sorry' after a car accident
If you apologize to another driver following a collision, your words might be used later to make you responsible for damages, even if you were just trying to be polite.
It may seem like good etiquette demands an apology at times like these, but you should remain noncommittal about who was at fault. In the aftermath of an accident, you may not be in the best state of mind to make a good judgment about who was responsible. If you later decide that the other driver was to blame, your words of apology could come back to haunt you.
Be friendly, be helpful, share insurance information and render aid, but do not say you are sorry.
If you give into guilt and apologize immediately after an accident, you may "wind up holding the bag," warns Erwin Adler, a Los Angeles attorney who handles insurance matters. "What you can say is, 'I am terribly sorry you were involved in an accident.'"
Own up to parking lot damage
If you damage someone else's car while parking, be sure to provide your insurance information or offer to repair the damage out of your own pocket. Don't drive away as if nothing happened. If the other driver is not present, leave a note with your complete contact information. This may deplete your bank account a bit, but you'll go to bed knowing you did the right thing.