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Documenting Your Possessions After A Loss

Your worst nightmare has just happened! You’ve had a fire or been robbed. Can you document what was stolen or destroyed? The insurance company will ask you to do just this and it’s your responsibility to prove what you lost and its value.

Here are some suggestions to help you cope with this difficult task.


One of the most important items you can produce to verify ownership of your property is receipts. They are often overlooked because they are small, usually tucked away and forgotten. While a receipt may not establish the value of the item at the time of the loss, it does verify ownership and establishes the original cost. If you do not have receipts, perhaps you retained copies of invoices or appraisals. If an item was a gift, a letter showing the value and how it was received may be submitted. In either case, be sure to photocopy your documents and keep them in separate locations.


You’ve heard the phrase “one picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case, it could not be more true. Photographs and videotapes of your property are among the easiest and most authentic ways to prove the property existed. It not only shows the item, it places it in its natural environment. Additionally, this form of documentation helps you remember some of the smaller items that you may overlook when compiling a list of your personal property.

Be sure to photograph both the interior and exterior of your home. Don’t forget to include your basement, attic, garage, sheds and landscaping features. If your home has a special design or ornate feature, pay special attention to this area so it can be reproduced.

When photographing the interiors of your home, be sure to photograph each room from all four corners, making sure your photographs overlap. Take individual photos of valuable items that would be hard to replace. Jewelry, collectibles and small items should be photographed separately. Be sure to pay special attention to details such as patterns and other identifying marks.


Another method of substantiating your property is by videotaping. This method not only allows you to scan the entire room visually, but also to include audio narration as to the item, where and when it was acquired and its value. When using this form of documentation, go slowly and be sure to include everything -- even if it means moving to a different location. After you have taped the entire room, zoom in on individual items. Be sure your narration describes all the items in the room. Remember; don’t forget to include closets along with the contents of any drawers. As with photographs, don’t forget the exterior of your home along with the landscape.

Whether you photograph, videotape or both, be sure to get double prints and copies of tapes. Keep one set in a fireproof safe and the other at an off-site location.

Remember, it is YOUR responsibility to prove that you owned the item and its value. Having proper documentation of the property makes it much easier and quicker to process your claim. And don’t forget to continue updating your records as you acquire new property and dispose of old property.

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