Taking inventory helps protect your possessions

September 06, 2002|by LYNN F. LITTLE

If you were asked to make a list of your possessions - clothing, household furnishings and appliances, gardening and automotive equipment, jewelry, etc. - could you do it?

It's not easy to do this from memory, but if your house or apartment was destroyed by fire or damaged by a tornado, you would need to complete such a list to be compensated by your homeowner's or renter's insurance.

In the event of a burglary, the police also would need to know what was taken. To recover stolen items or settle insurance claims, it is important to have a detailed list of losses, proof of ownership and documentation of value.

Once a year it is important that you take stock of what you own and make a household inventory - an itemized list of household furnishings, equipment and other personal possessions.


Your inventory should clearly identify each item and include a brief description, including brand name, color, size, features, unique characteristics and, where appropriate, model, serial or other identification numbers.

The date items were purchased or acquired is needed to help identify the item, as well as establish value. Try to be as accurate as possible.

The purchase price or the value of items when acquired should be noted. You also may want to estimate what it would cost to replace the item at current prices. Check with your insurance company to see if it wants you to keep replacement cost information to help figure claims.

You may think you will never be faced with losses from fire or theft, but it can happen to you. A household inventory can provide a record for insurance purposes and owner identification in case of loss or theft. It can also help to determine the amount of insurance you need to adequately cover your possessions.

If a loss is not covered by insurance, these records help prove the loss for income tax purposes.

Several methods - handwritten lists, videotapes, photographs and slides, audio recordings and computer records - can be used to develop a household inventory. Whichever method(s) you choose, be systematic.

Develop the inventory room by room. Start at one point and go around the room, listing and/or photographing each item or area. Don't forget to open closet doors and drawers, and check the attic, basement, garage and automobile trunks.

A household inventory will take time and some effort to complete. You may want to start by videotaping each area and storing the videotape or photographs in a safe place. This will provide at least some indication of your household possessions should your home be damaged or destroyed while you are in the process of completing the more detailed inventory.

Make several copies of your household inventory. A master copy of the written or printed inventory, pictures, slides, audiotape and videotape should be kept in a safe deposit box. A home safe that is both fireproof and burglarproof is another option.

A second copy of the inventory can be kept in a convenient place at home. Ask if your insurance agent also wants to keep a copy on file.

Check your homeowner or renter's insurance policy. In the event of a loss, will you receive actual cash value, or do you have replacement cost coverage? What is the limit on coverage of antiques, computers, silver tableware, firearms, jewelry, art collections, etc.?

Do you need to provide special coverage for these items through a special policy or through a rider or endorsement on your current policy? For what perils are you insured? Are there any exclusions or limitations on your policy?

Don't forget to update your inventory at least once a year or more often, especially when you purchase, sell or discard major items.

Get started now. A household inventory requires some time and effort to get started. However, once the initial inventory is done, it is not too difficult to maintain. In the event of a fire, burglary or other loss, you will find that having this information readily available was well worth the effort.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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