Preparing an inventory of your personal possessions can seem daunting. If you're like many Americans, your "stuff" has been accumulating for years, and you've lost or tossed many of the documents that evidence ownership. Without such evidence, insurance companies may not be willing to reimburse your losses from fire, theft, or natural disasters. Also, tax auditors will want to see supporting documentation for losses claimed on income tax forms. In addition, home inventories can provide a permanent record of family heirlooms for future generations and can be used to establish values for estate sales.

Here are a few suggestions for recording your home inventory.

  • Take plenty of pictures and videos. Start in a corner of each room of your house, and pan slowly around the room with your video camera, adding commentary about the items that come into view. For especially valuable and theft-prone items, add still photos. Label photos and videos with the dates they were taken, and include a family member in some of the photos to substantiate ownership.
  • Don't forget paper documentation. Supplement your photos with a brief description of each item. Use a word-processing file, electronic spreadsheet, financial software program, or sheet of notebook paper. Add purchase receipts (if available) and serial numbers for appliances and electronics. Remember to record items in the attic, garage, and basement, and don't forget to open drawers and closets. If you have appraisals for items such as jewelry, collectibles, firearms, coins, or artwork, include copies with your photos.
  • Make duplicates. Prepare backup copies of all videos and photos using flash drives, compact discs, DVDs, paper, and other media. You want to make your inventory accessible in many forms. If your insurance agent's computer won't read the flash drive, the paper copy may help.
  • Store your records safely. Place inventory documentation in a safe deposit box or with a trusted friend — away from your home. That way you'll have access to the records should disaster strike.
  • Update your inventory. Especially when making high-value purchases, it's important to record the new items in your inventory. You don't need to start from scratch. Just take a photo, scan, or copy the purchase receipt, and add to your existing records.

If your home is hit by disaster or theft, a carefully prepared inventory can lessen the pain by ensuring quick reimbursement for losses.

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