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Inventory protects household possessions

October 01, 2004|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 hurricane or 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's important to have a detailed list of losses, proof of ownership and documentation of value. This information also can help if claiming casualty or theft losses on your income tax returns.

As household managers, we need to take a cue from business managers - who close up shop at least once a year to take stock of what they have - and make a household inventory.

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A household inventory is an itemized list of household furnishings, equipment and other personal possessions. The inventory should clearly identify the item and include the brand name and a brief description of each item (color, size, style, features, unique characteristics, dealer's name, etc.). Where applicable, also include the model, serial or other identification number (check the owner's manual for the number's location if you can't find it on the item).

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 on dates. For used, inherited, gift or other items not new when acquired, note date acquired and approximate age.

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 they want you to keep replacement cost information to help when figuring claims.

A household inventory can provide a record. It can help determine the amount of insurance needed to adequately cover possessions. If a loss is not covered by insurance, these records help prove the loss for income tax purposes.

Household inventories can come in handy when estimating the market value of possessions for compiling net worth statements and estate plans. It also might remind you of heirlooms or other possessions that you plan to give to family members or others as gifts in the near future or after your death. Replacement cost information, along with an estimate of the average life of an item, also can help in planning and forecasting future furnishings, equipment and other purchases.

A written inventory, audio recording, computer inventory, photographs, or slides and video recording can be utilized when developing a household inventory, with each method having advantages and disadvantages. A combination of methods might be most effective in establishing loss, ownership and value.

Be systematic. Develop the inventory room by room or category by category. 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 some time and effort to complete. You might want to start by videotaping each area (or taking broad, overlapping photographs) and storing the videotape or photographs in a safe place. This will provide at least some indication of your household possessions.

Make several copies of your household inventory. A master copy of the written or printed inventory (or even the computer disk with the program software and data files, if storage permits), pictures or slides (or negatives), audio tape and videotape should be kept in a safe deposit box. A home safe that is both fireproof and burglar proof is another option, but remember that it is not "tornado-proof." 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.

Sales receipts and other proofs of purchase or acquisition (if received as a gift or an inheritance) often can provide valuable information about the date an item is acquired, its value when acquired and when a written warranty expires. You will need to develop a system for storing and retrieving this information. For example, you might store them in your home file or attach them to the relevant warranty information. Sales receipts and other proofs of ownership for unusual or expensive items (or others that are irreplaceable), as well as appraisal information for antiques, jewelry or other valuables, might need to be kept in a safe deposit box.

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