Preparing a Home Inventory in Case Your Property Gets Damaged or Stolen

Plan ahead to deal with police, insurance companies, and more.

If your home is struck by a burglary, fire, flood, earthquake, or other disaster, one of the first questions you will be asked is, "What property was lost, destroyed, or stolen?" It's almost impossible to pull up such information out of your brain on a good day -- and it's twice as hard in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

This is one of those tasks that is easy to say one will do "tomorrow." But do it today. Being able to pull out an up-to-date home inventory will make it hugely easier to deal with police and your insurance company.

Fortunately, making a home inventory isn't onerous, and might actually prompt you to prevent the loss itself. As you inventory your possessions, you'll become more aware of their vulnerability, and can take steps to secure them.

Start by walking through your house with a pad of paper and a still or video camera. Jot down a list of any items worth more than $50 or so and take pictures of them. Go room by room, and don't forget the garage, attic, and basement. Be sure to include jewelry, clothing and shoes, stamp or coin collections, CD and record collections, silver, tools, and electronic equipment.

Then take a little time to formalize your inventory. Insurance companies often supply inventory forms, or you can access free software from the Insurance Information Institute.

Keep your written and photographic inventory in a safe place, such as a fire-resistant file cabinet, the freezer, or a safe deposit box. Keep at least one copy away from home. If you take a long vacation, give a copy to a friend or neighbor. That way, if your house is broken into while you're gone, your friend can determine what's missing and report it to the police.

For more information on homeowners' insurance, see the Insurance Information Institute's website at www.iii.org, or www.insure.com, a highly rated commercial site that provides actual quotes.

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