Before disaster strikes, take inventory of your valuables

September 05, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Natural disasters can happen anytime and any place. As a result of heavy thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms and floods, many people have experienced damage to their homes and personal property. Everyone knows the importance of having adequate and appropriate insurance to cover potential damages.

Along with adequate insurance coverage, it is important to have an up-to-date personal property inventory. Imagine trying to compile a detailed list of property for an insurance claim just after a natural disaster. You will remember big items like the furniture and appliances, but not the small things that your family needs.

A personal property inventory offers tremendous emotional security, even if you never go through the painful experience of having to document an extensive loss.

Talk to your agent

The first step is to ask your insurance agent what documentation you need if your home is damaged in a disaster. Some insurance companies want receipts for major purchases to determine the value of the items.


But what if you do not have receipts? Ask if dated pictures or video would work as evidence that possessions existed and would be adequate to determine the quality of those possessions. Ask if a written personal property inventory filed with the agent before any loss occurs would serve as adequate proof.

Go room by room

Once you know the type of information your insurance company requires, you can begin the process of actually developing your inventory. This is not a quick process, so try creating a list of possessions one room at a time.

If you use paper and pencil to do the inventory, get a clipboard and a package of notebook paper. You will need at least three columns on each page: one for the name of the item, another for the estimated year of purchase, and a third column for the cost of the item at purchase. Start in one corner of the room and work your way around.

You can find a household inventory form through the Maryland Insurance Administration at

Safeguard your personal property inventory by storing a copy, including receipts, outside your home. A safe deposit box is a good place to store a copy of your inventory, whether it is on paper or saved to a CD. Keep another copy at home so you can easily make changes as you add or discard possessions. Once a year, replace the copy in your safe deposit box with an updated inventory.

Review your coverage

Once your personal property inventory is complete, make an appointment with your insurance agent to review it. You might think you have adequate insurance coverage, but you might discovery you don't.

One example is jewelry. Many homeowners' policies limit coverage on jewelry to $1,000 or $1,500. Other types of possessions that might have set dollar limits in a typical policy are guns, silver, artwork and electronic equipment.

Reviewing the inventory with your agent is a good way to determine if you have adequate coverage.

Don't wait until a storm is coming to decide to do your personal property inventory. Act now.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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