Ready or Not #26: Documenting Your Treasures

We have previously talked about gathering all of your important documents together.  Now, I want you take pictures of everything in your house. Okay, maybe not everything, but everything that is important to you. You want to be able to prove to the insurance company that you really did own the item you say is missing, or to the police to help them know that the item they recovered really is yours. I remember last year when one of the Salt Lake City police departments found a whole house and storage unit full of stolen items. Their biggest concern, other than convicting the thieves, was how to return all of the stolen items to the correct owners. If the owners couldn’t show positive ownership, they couldn’t turn it over. Document what you own.

Chief Brad James, Salem City’s Chief of Police, said that the biggest reason they can’t return recovered items is because the people who lost them can’t positively prove that it belonged to them. What he said people need to do to protect themselves in case of burglary, and yes it does happen here, is to take pictures of what you own. It is also vitally important that you write down the model numbers and serial numbers, of anything that has a model number or serial number on it, and put it with its picture. I would suggest you use a digital camera and store this information on a disc in a safe place like a safety deposit box or fire proof safe. You can make several copies and keep them in different places depending on what type of problem you encounter – burglary, flooding, earthquake, mass evacuation or fire.

My insurance company sent out an inventory list for us to use to do this very thing so that in case of disaster or robbery they would be able to effectively help us. After all, you are paying them to help replace what you have lost – the least that you could do is to provide an effective and accurate list that they can work from.

The suggestion that the insurance company made was that you inventory items by what room they are in, not by what the item is. For example, if you have a computer in your home office and another one in each of your kid’s bedrooms and your laptop is in the family room, don’t make a list stating that you have four computers and listing their models and serial numbers. Although this does give accurate information that can be used, they would prefer to know where in the house it is supposed to be. What your insurance agent would really like is if you walked into each room of your house and took an overall picture of the room from a couple of different angles. Then go on to take pictures of each piece of furniture and the other items that you want to have cataloged. Make sure to open your closet and take a picture of your clothes so that they can see approximately how many pieces of clothing that you have. This is especially helpful in case of a fire. Also document all of the CD’s, DVD’s and computer programs and games that you have. They are very expensive items, easy to steal and would be hard to prove that you owned them if you haven’t documented it. Don’t forget your garage or shop areas either. Tools and lawn mowers are very expensive and you want to make sure that you can recover them if stolen

After you have taken all of the pictures and have downloaded them on to your computer, go to each picture and type in any pertinent information like: what brand name the item is, how much you purchased it for, where did you purchase it, the date you purchased it, serial numbers, model numbers and any other information that you feel is pertinent. If you don’t have a digital camera or computer, find a friend or neighbor that does and have them help you and then make a couple of copies on a CD. It is cheaper to go this route and better to transmit information faster and more effectively. The police and your insurance agent will really appreciate this.

If you want to, you could go even one step further – use this information for your estate for when you pass on. You could add historical or interesting information about each item (if applicable) and place it next to each picture and also state who you would like to receive the item. That would make dividing up the estate less complicated and feelings wouldn’t get out of sorts if your descendants knew that this is what you really wanted. Believe me, investing your time now can help you immensely in the future – no matter what the future brings.

(Here’s a link to the follow up article Ready or Not #161: Documenting Our Treasures.)

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