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How to Document Your Possessions for Insurance

Whether you rent or own your dwelling, having insurance for your dwelling is very important. Our lease actually requires us to get it. Since we’re in a one-bedroom apartment and almost none of our stuff is new (or if it is, it’s well-used), we didn’t insure it for a huge sum, but do have enough insurance to replace it all should something happen. It costs just under $100/year and it’s worth every penny for peace of mind.

About a year after we got insurance, when I was renewing the policy, I suddenly realized that we didn’t have any documentation of our possessions, were we to have a fire or other catastrophe. While the insurance company might believe we had 2 couches, a bed, a dining room table, etc, they might not be willing to take it on faith that I have a lovely violin or the number of computers we seem to have acquired (though some are so old & feeble that they’re not worth replacing).

So I grabbed our little digital camera and made a sweep of the place, documenting. It’s been on my mind again recently, after I wrote about creating a personal balance sheet in my textbook personal finance series. Here are some tips for documenting your possessions for insurance.

  1. Use a digital camera. If you don’t have one, borrow a friend’s or buy a disposable digital camera. Having the pictures in digital format makes them much more useful.
  2. Photograph everything. Photograph the most important items carefully, bu also take pictures of rooms so that you can point out that you lost two sets of hand weights, a couple quilting hoops, several wicker baskets of fabric, etc. If you end up having to use the photographs, having broader pictures will help you figure out everything you need to replace. Also pull open kitchen drawers to get an idea of what’s inside.
  3. Store remotely. Don’t just keep everything on your local computer or in your camera. You can use everything from online storage like dropbox to gmail to a friend’s computer to web albums to store pictures. But wherever you do store them, make it private. You don’t want to end up on someone’s shopping list!
  4. Document on “paper” too. Santa’s not the only one who makes a list and checks it twice. Having a list will help you recall specifics down the road. It
  5. Don’t sweat tidiness. Don’t put it off just because things aren’t as neat as you’d like. Better to do an initial documentation, find time to clean later, and then re-document if you want to. The only thing I’d avoid taking pictures of are any big fire hazards (and I’d get those fixed so you don’t have to use the insurance!).

Insurance is good, but without documentation your bases aren’t fully-covered.

Do you have homeowner or renter’s insurance? Have you documented it yet?


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Mama Geek March 1, 2010 at 7:21 am

Home buyers here in VA can’t get a mortgage without insurance. I have to talk to Mr about our coverage because I’m not sure about our flood insurance anymore.

Having the pictures in digital format IS important, but you should also have hard copies of them stored in either a firesafe box or in a safety deposit box. Some companies balk at digital pictures.

Don’t just document the fact you have a computer, document it’s value. (If you have the invoice/receipt for it, keep that with the other photos)

If you’ve got major jewelry pieces, those should be documented separately with an appraisal. When you take pictures of them, make sure you use a ruler to note the size of the piece and the size of any stones.
.-= Mama Geek´s last blog ..A Very Expensive Weekend =-.

Diane March 1, 2010 at 11:09 am

When we evacuated suddenly for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 I did not have complete documention of the contents of our house. I had a mixture of photos of some rooms & some items. Fortunately, we had no contents loss – other than in our shed.

In 2008 I was better prepared when we evacuated for Gustav. I went through each room with the digital camera, photographing from each angle to get all walls & furniture. I took photos of each shelving unit, inside cabinets, the shed, inside the shed. Still no contents loss, but I was prepared.

I transferred these photos to 2 flash drives. 1 is kept in my fireproof/waterproof lockbox, which we take with us. The 2nd is in our off-site office storage unit.

Ron March 1, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I had a friend who lost everything to a devastating fire. He owned a lot of things and his home was packed with clothing, tools, a restored 65 Mustang, and 30 years of just stuff. The insurance company was trying to cheap out but his niece had recently visited from back East and video-tapped the entire home for her dad (my friend’s brother). She walked every square inch of the home, inside and out, opening the closets, focusing on the artwork, and commenting all the while. After the fire, my friend was able to get a copy of that video and use it to DOUBLE the claim from his homeowners insurance!

Great article and remember to store your “proof of purchase” off-site!

Mike Collins March 6, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Great advice…this is something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time but I never get around to it. I think I’d better whip out the digital camera and start documenting before it’s too late.
.-= Mike Collins´s last blog ..7 Smart Things To Do With Your Tax Return =-.

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