In a previous article, we discussed a procedure for compiling a thorough written inventory of your possessions , which helps both you and your homeowners' insurance provider in the event you have to make a claim. In addition to merely recording your possessions on paper, however, you can develop a system of tracking them, which will help protect your belongings from thieves. By creating your own identification number system, you'll be able to maintain a record that you can pass along to the police if someone should break into your home and steal your possessions.
Simply inscribe the identification number in a discreet place on each valuable item (obviously, you don't want to write the number on a piece of tape or label because savvy criminals will find it and remove it). Instead, you'll need to engrave it so that nobody can remove the identification number you created. As you inscribe each item, record the numbers on a master list, and store it in a safe. You can't track your priceless jewelry in this manner, of course, but you'd be wise to store that in your safe, anyway. But items such as your television set, stereo, VCR and other electronics should be engraved. Your system of number classification doesn't have to be anything complex; you can use numbers that are meaningful to you, such as your date of birth, your spouse's date of birth or your children's; your telephone number or Social Security number. Police track down a near-infinite amount of stolen property on a daily basis. Having these numbers inscribed on your possessions will give you an instant method of identification.
More expensive items, including your jewelry and any original works of art, should be professionally appraised to determine a near-exact dollar value. This measure is your assurance that you'll recoup the maximum amount you deserve from your insurance company in the event these items are stolen. And speaking of your insurance company, before you enroll in any coverage plan, have a frank discussion with your insurance agent about the extent of the coverage you should own. Sometimes, a standard homeowners' insurance plan isn't enough to cover items like expensive works of art or fine jewelry that has been in your family for multiple generations. Having those items accurately appraised will help you determine with your insurance agent if your standard homeowners' insurance plan is enough to cover them, and if not, how much additional insurance you'll need to protect yourself and your valuables.
Another measure that will provide you with additional protection in the event of theft is a "video inventory" of your belongings. If you own a video camera, you can walk from room to room and take your time as you film every valuable. As you walk, you should speak about the various possessions you're filming, mentioning their date of purchase and their estimated value. The usefulness of this "video diary" extends beyond just your valuables; you can film the exterior of your home, including the fencing, landscaping and other features, as well a general picture of your home's interior to protect yourself in the event of natural disaster.
Provided you store the videotape in your safe, you can even use this inventory as a substitute for the written version we discussed in the previous article, which, while thorough, is undoubtedly quite tedious to construct. Today's popular digital cameras can also do the job, although they don't give you the added advantage of adding a verbal inventory as you walk from room to room in your home. If you have a spouse and children, each family member has his or her own prized possessions and can offer the most through descriptions of them; so it's a good idea to allow each family member to have a turn with the camera, rather than tackling the entire house yourself. Once you're finished taping your video diary, make at least one copy, preferably two, and place them in the care of two different trusted friends or family members who reside elsewhere.
In your safe, you should store not only your videotape, but also your most important paperwork, which, in many cases, may prove to be more valuable than your belongings themselves. These documents include the title to your home, the deed, escrow and original copy of your homeowners' insurance; as well as your personal documentation, including your birth certificate, your will, passport, medical documents and a record of all of your credit cards and Social Security card. In addition, you'll need to store your tax information in your safe. Most homeowners' insurance companies recommend keeping your returns dated from the previous five years. If you're investing money for your future or that of your family's, store records of your holdings in your safe, along with your checking and savings account information and documents verifying your 401(k) and CDs. You'll also want to store your automobile records here, including a copy of your insurance policy, finance contract, registration and driver's license, as well as your certificate of ownership.
Even the most comprehensive homeowner's insurance policy won't serve your needs completely unless you take steps on your own to inventory and protect your belongings. And in the event of theft, a careful record of your possessions will help your chances of retrieving your valuables or at least be compensated for their loss. Your personal records are, in fact, your most valuable possession of all, helping you maximize the coverage you'll receive from your provider when you need it most.