By Nathaniel Benforado
Disasters happen. Here's how to safeguard your home -- today.
Fire, flood, robbery -- you can lose everything in an instant,
and then how do you get it all back? The first essential is homeowner's
insurance. The other must-have is less obvious: a home inventory that documents
all your possessions. This information will help you determine whether you have
enough insurance coverage. In the event of a disaster, it'll allow you to file
claims faster and more convincingly.
What to Document
Write down a description of everything you own, from furniture and clothing to TVs and other electronics. What to say about each item: its purchase price (if you have a receipt, attach a copy to the list), the approximate date and venue of purchase, and where applicable, warranty information (the manufacturer's contact information and an explanation of the coverage). Also jot down the model and serial numbers of appliances and electronics. If you own artwork, jewelry, or other valuables that have been appraised, include a copy of the assessment.
To make the task less daunting, divide the job into chunks and spread the work out over a few weeks. Once you complete your initial inventory, you'll only have to add or remove items as they're purchased or discarded.
How to Document
Depending on your skills, you can create your record in any of the three ways listed below, then attach the necessary paperwork. Once you've completed the inventory, keep a copy in a safe-deposit box or with a trusted relative or friend who lives far enough away to be out of range of a disaster in your area. You can document:
In writing: It's easy to start with blank paper, but unless you're super-meticulous, that approach can lead to a list that's disorganized and inconsistent. Some insurance companies distribute inventory forms that could be helpful: a checklist of common home items, with space provided for you to add vital information. Request a form from your insurance agent.
In pictures: Photograph your possessions, get prints, and write the key points on the back of each image.
On your computer: In our test of four inventory programs, all performed well, but just one of them was free: software from the Insurance Information Institute. Download it from knowyourstuff.org onto a PC or Mac, and the inventory process will be quick and pain free. Save the completed report on your computer and, to be safe, file a hard copy in your safe-deposit box.
We also liked the online service A Safe Spot (asafespot.com), which costs $9.95 a year. Because it's Internet-based, you can access your data from any computer — a plus if you have to flee home without your laptop.
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