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Insurance & Risk Management: Inventory Your Valuables Before Disaster Hits

Insurance Insights

Thinking about or planning for a disaster – fire, theft, flood, etc. – is not pleasant. However, addressing those “what if” scenarios before they occur, when you are not under tremendous stress, will be comforting to you and all those affected. Having verifiable documentation of your ownership and worth of your valuables – works of art, jewelry, furniture, and recreational equipment – will help you navigate a potentially arduous claims process.

Regaining the full value of your valuables will be a lot easier if you have a detailed inventory of your losses and the right coverages in place to protect you.

Why Are Inventories Necessary?

Let’s face it; falling victim to a disaster or accident is enough to rattle anyone’s nerves. You may not be able to remember what you paid for that vase, painting, ring, or washer and dryer, and your receipts for that kitchen remodel might be a soggy mess in your now-destroyed den. You might have to make an educated guess about your wardrobe’s value, shorting yourself hundreds of dollars.

An inventory will help you optimize your insurance policy by making certain you’re reimbursed for what you’ve lost. And if you have a detailed record of your belongings, valuables, furnishings, and your home’s pre-loss condition, your adjuster should be able to expedite your claim.

How Can I Inventory My Belongings?

There are three steps to making an inventory: Photograph each item individually, videotape or photograph the item in its usual location, and organize and safely store your receipts and titles. That might seem like an insurmountable task, but broken down into steps, you can have the bulk of your belongings recorded in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Use Your Smartphone

If you have an iPhone or Android phone, you can use one of several home inventory applications available for just this purpose. Search the App Store or Google Play Store for available apps. These are a great place to start but you’ll want to be sure that if the app you select has the option to use your choice of cloud storage. And keep in mind that free apps aren’t always the most economical route, especially if they’re not user-friendly.

Most of these apps allow you to attach a photo or video record to each item and organize your belongings in custom categories. Believe it or not, they may even make your inventory process fun.

What If I Am Not Comfortable With Technology?

Not everyone has a smartphone. Even if you do, you might prefer to document your items with a stand-alone digital still or video camera. In this case, be sure to name your files and organize them on your computer in a manner that’s
intuitive to you.

Scan Your Documents

Do you have a home scanner? If you don’t, consider a portable scanner that’s easy to use and doesn’t take much space in a central part of your home. This way, you can scan receipts as you make new purchases, and store them digitally with your inventory files. You’ll also want digital copies of your important documents:

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  • Driver’s licenses
  • Birth certificates
  • Insurance policies
  • Home, Auto, Boat, and RV titles
  • Legal will and trust documents
  • List of bank and investment accounts

Portable scanners are a great way to reduce clutter and help you stay disciplined in organizing your receipts for both tax and inventory purposes.

Data Storage Security and Redundancy

You want your records to be secure and accessible, and you want to make certain that you keep copies in more than one place.

Physical Storage: Store paper documents such as titles, birth certificates, Social Security cards and special licenses in a high-quality waterproof and fire-resistant home safe or safe deposit box. Be sure that your safe is properly secured to your home’s floor or studs in case of theft, or to keep it from floating away in a flood.

External Drives: Consider investing in encrypted USB or compact external hard drives for your important private digital files. Encryption will protect you against identity theft and fraud if you should lose your data storage, and high-quality external drives are worth the investment. Inexpensive USBs, in particular, have a reputation of losing data.

Cloud Storage: Many people use free versions of DropBox, GoogleDrive, OneDrive, or iCloud, and these are all fine, but you might consider a step up in cloud security with a paid service. The blog Tech Advisor recommends the Swiss cloud storage firm Tresorit, and Tech Radar breaks down their recommended cloud service providers, including brands you may already use.

We recommend keeping two or more external hard drives (with one set at either a bank deposit box or the home of an out-of-area trusted contact) in addition to the data kept in your cloud storage account.

Follow a Plan

When you first tackle your home inventory, be sure to break the task into stages. You may opt to try the “broad stroke” approach and videotape each room first so you have a visual record of your items. Then, go room to room and follow your home inventory application’s prompts to fully document your valuables.

Don’t forget to document your home’s exterior, outbuildings, fences, and landscaping, as well as your vehicles’ interiors and exteriors. Once you’ve “caught up”, it’s easier to keep up with a routine.

  • Spring and fall time changes are a great time to re-record your interior and exterior areas. (While you’re at it, change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and clean your dryer vent hoses and chimney flues!)
  • Scan and save purchase receipts at least once a week, so they don’t pile up.
  • Back up your data at least once a month, and after every major purchase or household project.

Be Ready. Build a G.O.O.D. Kit

If you need to “get out of Dodge”, you’ll want to make sure you have all your documents ready to go. You’ve got your data stored on a cloud server, but you’ll want to make sure you have an external drive with your important documents. If you can’t get to your original titles, having those copies will help if you need to show proof of ownership to reclaim or access your property.

It’s a good idea to keep a list of emergency contacts in the same place, as well as phone numbers for hotels, pet boarding facilities, and hospitals in your planned evacuation destinations.

Fires, thefts, floods, and hurricanes are all part of life. Preparing for the worst allows us to enjoy the best. Let us know how we can help you keep a positive outlook and live a more resilient life.

If we can be of assistance with any of your personal insurance needs, please contact Nancy Albanese, Vice President, Personal Insurance Division, at 610.527.1881.

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