Do It Now: Take Photos of Your Important Belongings for Insurance Purposes

Avoiding or putting off discussions about property insurance is common-we don’t want to think about the possibility of fire or flood destroying the belongings that we’ve worked hard for and that we cherish. It’s because of the hard work we’ve put into those belongings that we should make sure we can replace them if something does happen.

Review Your Insurance Policies

So, start today and review your property, renter’s, and/or vehicle’s insurance policies-know what will be covered and what kind of evidence you would need to provide in case your property is lost, damaged, or stolen due to fire, flood, natural disaster, or theft.

In most cases, if you make a claim, you’ll need to provide proof of ownership and the condition of the item which can be done through various means, including producing receipts and showing photographs.

Walk around Your Home and Vehicle and Make a List

I recommend starting by walking around your entire home and your vehicle(s) and making a list of items you want to photograph-don’t forget items in the attic, basement, garage, and possibly any off-site storage (depending on what your policies cover). While you may not use that table saw in the garage often, it’s worth quite a bit, so don’t forget to include little-used items in your list.

Take Photos, Lots of Photos

Next, you’ll want to begin taking photos of your property or using a video camera to record your belongings. Tackle your photographing one room at a time, and use the following tips:

  • Take pictures of the exterior of your home, vehicle, etc.
  • Take several general wide-angled or overview pictures of each room from different perspectives in the room to capture a sense of the room’s contents. Likewise, take interior pictures of your vehicle.
  • Open desk and dresser drawers and take photos of items in the drawers. Likewise, open cabinet and closet doors and take photos with the doors open.
  • Take individual photos of items that you need to highlight because of their value. Small but valuable items, like rings and necklaces, should be photographed individually against a plain background so that they show up clearly, and ask your insurance agent if particularly valuable items need separate insurance or are covered by your current policy or if you need a formal appraisal. If the item’s size is ambiguous in the photo, include a ruler or some other reference point (e.g., a coin) to help establish the item’s size.

When you’ve finished taking photos, have copies made of the photos and/or burn the photos to CD or DVD. Write the cost and purchase date of the items on the back of the prints using a photo-safe pen.

Store Your Inventory Properly

Now that you have your photo inventory, you’ll want to store it away from your home. Include an extra copy of your insurance policies with the photos. A safe deposit box is a great choice for storage, or you may want to consider a friend or family member’s home in another town or state. (In a natural disaster, a family member’s or neighbor’s home near to your home may be damaged at the same time as yours.)

Finally, as you acquire new belongings or update old ones (e.g., new computers, televisions, etc.), update your photos so that you always have a recent photographic inventory of your belongings. Consider, too, keeping the receipts or copies of the receipts for costly items with your photos. And, take comfort, too-you’ve now taken an important step toward ensuring that your belongings could be replaced.

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