One area of preparedness that I don’t think we preppers take as seriously as we should is inventorying our household possessions for an emergency situation. I’m not talking about organizing your supplies (I’ve written about that in the past here). This post is purely about “what happens if it’s all lost and now I need to file an insurance claim?”
It’s a seemingly simple act, no doubt. List everything you own or, at least, everything of significant value. This should include, furniture, electronics, prepping equipment (of course!), jewelry, dishes, firearms, precious metals, books and dvds, clothing, yard and garden tools… you get the idea. I also recognize that there may be some things you don’t want to list so it’s entirely up to you what you include.
The problem occurs when you go to file a claim and your insurance agent wants you to PROVE IT. Can you? Do you have receipts, a record, pictures, video recordings, etc?
There are actually quite a few tools you can use to better inventory your stuff and I’ve tried plenty of them, from Excel files to online databases to writing it down, pictures, video, and I can’t remember what else.
What have I found that works the best for me and didn’t cost an arm and a leg? I actually do two things.
The first thing is to list in some fashion (I like spreadsheets) the more expensive things we own, including those items mentioned at the start, furniture, appliances, firearms, etc. I won’t bother to list each and every DVD we own but, rather, simply estimate the number and combined cost. It’s just not worth the effort. The same can be said for lumping things like kitchen dishes together… I just estimate. However, taking a moment to list our couch that cost a few paychecks is worth it to me. The same can be said for the television, stereo equipment, etc. It is quite possible to go overboard when listing what you own and spend way too much time here. That’s not the point. Hit the major things, lump what you can together, and leave the rest to the video tape (discussed later).
What to include?
Usually the more details the better. They like to see make, model, serial number (if available), date purchased, and cost. Receipts are greatly appreciated. One thing I’m told they like to do to you is to give you the actual cash value of your possessions which deducts deprecation and, therefore, gives you less money. What you WANT is replacement value coverage which attempts to give you the money needed to replace what you’ve lost in today’s dollars. The moral of this story is to CHECK YOUR POLICY for what type of coverage you have and accept nothing less than replacement value. Regardless, you could be very surprised at how much stuff you actually own. Therefore, ensure your coverage is actually enough to replace everything you own!
The second thing I do (about once a year) is to take my video camera and go room-by-room briefly narrating what inside as best as I can because we’re always bringing in new items and even discarding old possessions. The more up-to-date this video is the better off you’ll be if/when you need to deal with your insurance company. You don’t need to get fancy here. Just do a good pan of each room, open drawers and cupboards, and mention important specifics as you deem necessary. You know the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” then a video has got to be worth ten thousand. If you can’t do a video then take plenty of pictures.
Once you have everything chronicled in multiple ways, it’s best to get this information off-site. After all, the whole point is to have something to fall back on in the event of a catastrophic situation. Send this information to a trusted family or friend or perhaps a bank box is a good choice. Even if you choose to keep this information in a fire safe on your property, please choose to make a copy and send it somewhere else as you never know what could happen to your primary list/video if on site.
And, remember to occasionally update your information. Write it on your schedule, such as when you replace your smoke alarm batteries or at each New Year or whatever works for you. You don’t have to completely re-do everything; even a short five minute video update of your possessions is better than nothing. Of course, be sure to date each tape so you know when it was last done.