No one can predict when you will experience damage to your property from a fire, flood or other unexpected event. When it is time to make a claim to your insurance company for damage to your property, your insurer will almost certainly request a personal property inventory that will include a description of the property, its age and the cost to replace it and will want to know what condition your property was in prior to the loss.
One way to be prepared is to review your personal property items and keep an updated inventory in an accessible location that may be protected from a fire, flood or other unexpected event. In addition, records of the condition of your home, including records of repairs, renovations and updates to your home will be useful in making your claim.
Denial of Claims
Insurers have the right to ask you for detailed information on the property you claim as part of your loss and may deny your claim if you fail to cooperate with their requests. It pays to be prepared by having access to a detailed and accurate property inventory.
Inherent in all insurance policies in a duty to cooperate with the insurer’s investigation of the claim. Therefore, if you fail to cooperate with an insurer by failing to provide an insurer with the information it requests, it may have a valid reason to deny your claim. Insurers will almost always ask for a property inventory in the event of a fire, water, or weather-related loss. An incomplete or inaccurate property inventory may also give your insurer cause to deny your claim.
One of the best ways to protect your claim and to obtain the recovery that you paid for in your insurance policy is to complete a home inventory and update it at least once a year. Your inventory should be more than just a list. Consider including photographs of your property as well as receipts for purchases. Here’s how to do it:
1) Create a Home Inventory File
Start by creating a place to store all your home inventory images, receipts and a property list. A secure folder on your computer may be appropriate, however electronic storage in a place that is not susceptible to a fire, flood, or weather-related damage is probably better. If you save your property inventory solely to your home computer and that computer is lost in a fire, then your property inventory will be lost as well.
To avoid such a scenario, you should consider saving your property inventory remotely or on the cloud, so that it is not lost if you sustain a catastrophic loss. Your property inventory should include information such as the make, model, age, and cost for each item. The inventory should include all items of personal property including appliances, toys, food, cosmetics, toiletries, clothing, electronics, etc.
Your might consider sending the inventory to your insurance agent annually, which may help you avoid questions of ownership in the event of a loss. Regardless, make sure your property inventory is accessible in the event of a loss.
2) Clean the House
Before you start documenting, take a moment to clean your home. It is beneficial to make sure your home isn’t too cluttered and that each valuable item is clearly in view. Don’t forget personal property that is not located in your home. Most homeowner’s policies provide coverage for personal property located anywhere in the world.
3) Video Recording
Another way to document your personal property is simply to make a video recording of your personal property at its usual location. Such a recording may provide clear documentation in case you need to prove the path of destruction caused by a fire, flood or weather-related event or even a burglar. Feel free to narrate saying things like ‘This is our tv, Dan bought it two years ago and as you can see, there’s not a scratch on it.” and “Those are our bikes. We go riding about once a month so they’re still in good condition, if a little dusty”. These are authentic and time-stamped comments that will back up any report you may have to make in the future.
Go outside with your camera as well. Show what your landscaping looks like, the cars in your driveway, the toys in your backyard and, if you can, catch the state of your roof.
4) Take Pictures of Valuables
Now that you’ve videotaped everything from your bedroom closet to the spice rack, it’s time to take an intentional inventory of all your most valuable items. Electronics, exercise equipment, jewelry, anything worth more than $50 new should be documented clearly in a photograph. You can save time by photographing several things at once.
Don’t forget to take pictures of your home infrastructure as well. Snap photos of any existing damage (to show that you know the difference) along with every pristine floorboard, bathroom tile, and interior door. You also want to walk around the house getting photos of your nice complete gutters and rain spout, the state of your yard, your siding, or get a few shots of the undamaged roof.
Don’t forget to label your photographs and remember that digital photographs are date and time stamped, which can be helpful in making your claim.
5) Gather Receipts
Your insurer will want to know how much you paid for an item and how much it will cost to replace it. In our digital world, there are records of almost every purchase you make. If you do most of your shopping online, your email archives probably have your exact receipts available. Otherwise, you can check your bank card statements for general information on when and where you shopped and how much you spent. Especially for your higher priced items, go out of your way to hunt down receipts and save them with your property inventory. If necessary, add screenshots of and links to these records to your file.
6) Compile and Consolidate
Now you are ready to finish up your annual home inventory. Review your entire property inventory to ensure that it is accurate, complete, accessible and easily understood. Review your video recordings, photographs and receipts and have them ready to present to your insurer in the event of a loss.
Be aware that an insurer will be on the lookout for fraud and false reporting. It is absolutely imperative that your inventory is complete and accurate when you present it to your insurer. Even a minor inaccuracy or misstatement could give rise to a denial. It goes without saying that you should not claim items that you do not own.
7) Store in Multiple Locations
As stated previously, store your property inventory in a secure location where it will still be available and accessible in the event of a catastrophic loss. Make copies or backup your inventory and store it in multiple locations both digitally and physically, if necessary. Have a close friend or family member keep a copy and consider sending a copy to your insurance agent for their records.
8) Rinse, Repeat
With your home inventory procedures complete, you will want to update your home inventory at least once a year, ensuring that there is never more than twelve months between documenting an item or the state of your home and an unfortunate incident. Preparing and maintaining a property inventory is your best security in preserving your insurance claim in the event of a loss.
For more advice on how to handle an insurance claim or if you feel that your insurance company is not complying with its obligations under your policy, feel free to contact us for a consultation.