If asked to prepare a complete inventory of every item of personal property in their home, many people would probably struggle to identify even half of their belongings. Despite the difficulty of such a task, most are left with no choice but to depend on their unreliable memory when it comes time to itemize a loss for their insurance company. Consequently, many people frustrate or delay the settlement of their claim because they failed to inventory their property.

A current, accurate, and complete inventory of all property will be invaluable in the event of a covered loss. In addition to decreasing the likelihood that important or valuable items are forgotten or overlooked, such an inventory will simplify and expedite the claims process. An insured can simply refer to the inventory when preparing a claim or forward it to the insurance company.

Since the task of preparing an inventory can easily be placed in the “I’ll do it tomorrow” category, many people are left in the unenviable position of facing a claim without an inventory. Do not be one of those people. Since a loss from fire, tornado, theft, or some other covered event can happen without warning, an inventory should be completed as soon as possible. At the very least, if a specific threat to property can be anticipated, such as hurricanes or advancing fires, then an inventory should be prepared before evacuation.

A comprehensive inventory should include a description of the items, including the make, model, and serial number of the item. Any special or unique characteristics, such as customizations or alterations, should also be identified. Receipts, or other evidence of purchase, should also be included in the inventory. The receipt should indicate the date of purchase, the store or merchant selling the item, and the cost.

An inventory should also include a visual representation of all items, such as photographs or video recordings. Given the availability and relative simplicity of recording devices, this may be the easiest part of creating an inventory. Properly taken photographs and video recordings may also compensate for any shortcomings in descriptions or receipts. Thus, while it is recommended that an inventory contain all receipts and descriptions, photographs or video recordings may still prove helpful in the event of a claim.

When recording images of property, whether videos or photographs, be sure to cover all items, including collectibles, antiques, art, guns, paintings, furniture, rugs, clocks, jewelry, clothing, appliances, tools, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, electronics, computers, computer equipment, stereo equipment, cameras, TVs, CDs, DVDs, musical instruments, kitchen items, exercise equipment, and sports equipment. Do not overlook items in closets, drawers, the garage, the attic, or items outside the house, such as barbecue equipment and patio furniture.

If the inventory includes a video recording, be sure to record the entire home, working from one end of the house to the other. Recordings of the attic, garage, and the area outside of the home should also be made. Any video recording should be narrated with information about each item that is being recorded, such as purchase details, the history of any family heirlooms, and any details about customizations or unique characteristics. The date of the video should also be established.

If photographs are taken, individual circumstances must be considered to make sure all items are identified and properly recorded. Nevertheless, the following tips may be helpful in developing an acceptable approach:

  • Use a color camera with a flash;
  • Take wide-angle shots of the whole room, then take close-ups to capture detail;
  • View the images to confirm adequate quality;
  • A family member in the picture may assist in substantiating ownership;
  • Take pictures of the insides of drawers and closets;
  • Make sure brand, manufacturer, designer, painter, model number, etc. is clearly visible in the picture;
  • Fill the frame of any pictures;
  • Use the highest resolution available on a digital camera;
  • Get close to the item being photographed;
  • Use a simple background;
  • Provide scale where necessary; and
  • Label photos with the dates they were take and any other item-specific information that will be helpful.

While these tips may provide a foundation for creating an inventory of property, as long as there is sufficient information to identify each precise item, as well as its cost and condition, any chosen method should be adequate. The same tips may also be used to inventory property in the business or commercial insurance context.

Once completed, all photographs and video recordings, as well as any other items making up the inventory, should be saved in electronic format and stored on a disk or CD. Copies should be made and stored in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box or a relative’s house, so the inventory is not lost or destroyed by the same destructive event.

Finally, after making an initial inventory, it is important to keep it current by updating the inventory as needed. If new items are purchased or acquired, they should be added to the inventory. Updating can either be done on an as-needed basis, or at specific intervals, such quarterly. It is also important to note that while a comprehensive inventory is ideal, a less detailed version dealing only with expensive or important items can still be helpful in the event of a loss.

Although it takes time and effort to create a comprehensive inventory of property, the benefits outweigh the effort if an inventory ever becomes necessary. After a loss, being able to itemize the loss of property is necessary to quickly and adequately process your insurance claim. When the time comes, don’t be one of those people left guessing.

If you would like more information about protecting your property, please contact us