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Policyholders encouraged to keep house inventory

The Baltimore Sun

Do you have the right insurance policy to cover your toddler flushing Mommy's $5,000 antique wedding ring down the toilet or a garage fire destroying Grandpa's 1959 Edsel Corsair?

For most people, probably not, say insurance experts.

"With your standard homeowners policy, you may get $1,000 for that ring," said Joshua Dewez of the Canoe Associates Insurance Agency Inc. in Clifton Park, N.Y. "Certain items like vehicles, jewelry, sports equipment, musical instruments or antique furniture are not well covered under a general policy, and you need a separate rider, and that's where the inventories are important."

Insurance agents often ask their customers this wake-up question: "Would you be able to remember all the possessions you've accumulated over the years if they were all suddenly destroyed in a fire?"

Not likely. But in today's online world, it is pretty easy to inventory and even create a photo or video log of your prized possessions for insurance reasons.

For years, insurance companies recommended compiling a home inventory on paper and stashing it in a safe place. The old-fashioned way was to put it in a safe deposit box or leave it with a trusted relative who lives far from you in case of a major, widespread disaster.

The digital world, though, gives customers far more convenient and faster options.

"There are several programs out there you can download from the Internet and with a digital camera, you can compile a pretty comprehensive package in no time," said Joseph Annotti, senior vice president of public affairs for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Still, most people do not keep good inventories until they are prompted to act, usually after witnessing the wrath of Mother Nature.

Experts say the best time to compile an inventory is when you move. If you've lived in the same house for many years, it will be harder poking into the back of closets, moving things around in the cellar or garage or crawling through the attic.

Although it is better to have an incomplete inventory than nothing at all, Annotti said.

"Generally speaking, those who do inventories are paid quicker and get better settlements," Annotti said. "There will also be fewer disputes that can go back and forth between insurer and insured that can slow up payouts."

Special additions to a regular homeowner's policy, or riders, are necessary if you want a good return on all lost or destroyed items.

Additionally, there is a policy that stands as one of the industry's oxymorons -- an inland marine rider.

The term is a holdover from the old marine insurance policies that not only insure ships but their contents, which requires a precise list and value of the ship's contents, Dewez said.

This coverage is for stuff that is hard to pin a price tag on, like fine art or other unique property. It's also ideal for equipment used in construction or manufacturing, Dewez said.

Renters can also get this kind of insurance, but most have none.

Customers should check now and then with their agent to make sure they have adequate insurance.


Things to list

-- Make a list of your possessions, describing each item and noting where you bought it and its make and model. Start with recent purchases and then try to remember what you can about older possessions. Include appliances, vehicles, art, antiques, musical instruments, books, clothing, jewelry, electronics, furniture, kitchen supplies, linens, sports equipment, hobby materials, holiday decorations, tools and toys. The more valuable or important items should be listed separately.

Show receipts

-- Also helpful to note are receipts for major items or an estimated purchase price, the make and model, date acquired and estimated replacement cost. Review your inventory yearly to add and subtract items and adjust replacement costs.

Keep it safe

-- A written list, floppy disks, videotape or audio tapes along with receipts can be put in a safe deposit box or at a friend's or relative's home some distance from your home. Digital records (including digital photos and video) can be e-mailed to another site for storage. Take care with this option, though, as your inventory could fall into the wrong hands and become a burglar's shopping list.

After a loss

-- Quickly prepare a list of the damaged or lost items. If possible, keep damaged items or portions of those items until the claims adjuster has visited your home. Do not throw anything away that you plan to claim without discussing it with your adjuster first. Keep receipts for all additional expenses you incur, such as lodging, repairs or other supplies.

On the Web

-- The Insurance Information Institute offers free software for creating a home inventory at knowyourstuff.org. For a fee, you can store your inventory in an online "safe," where you'll be able to access it from any computer.

[Sources: Insurance Information Institute Inc.; American Red Cross]

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