Home inventory is first step to recovering from disaster

Whether natural acts or results of human activity, disasters can strike suddenly, anytime and anywhere. Your first priority must be to protect your family and property. There often isfinancial fallout resulting from disaster that you also mustconsider in protecting yourself. The key is to take action now.

One step you can take in preparation for a disaster is to conduct a household inventory and compile a comprehensive list of your possessions. This will help prove the value of what you owned if those belongings are damaged or destroyed. In turn, it will ensure expediency and fairness in reaching a damages settlement with your insurance company. It also willprovide documentation for tax deductions so that you can claim your losses.

The American Red Cross has time-tested tips for conducting a thorough home inventory:

Record the location of the original copy of all important financial and family documents, such as proof of address, passports, birth and marriage certificates, wills, deeds/leases, tax returns, insurance policies and stock and bond certificates. Keep the originals in a safe place, and store copies elsewhere. Youíll need accessible records for tax and insurance purposes.

Make a visual or written record of your possessions. If you donít own a camera or videotaping equipment, buy an inventory booklet and fill it out. Your insurance agent may be able to provide one, or simply make a list on notebook paper.

Go through each room of your home, describing each item, when you bought it and how much it cost when purchased. If you are photographing or videotaping, have someone open closet doors and hold up each item.

Record model and serial numbers.

Include less-expensive items, such as clothing, bath towels, pots and pans or household tools. Costs will accumulate quickly if you have to replace these basics.

Be sure to include the contents of your attic, basement and garage.

Note the quality of building materials, particularly for such features as solid-wood doors or expensive plumbing fixtures.

Photograph the exterior of your home, including the landscaping. Make special note of any improvements, such as a patio, fencing or outbuildings.

Photograph cars, boats and recreational vehicles.

Get professional appraisals of jewelry, collectibles, artwork or other items that are difficult to value. Update the appraisals every two to three years, and make copies of the receipts for these items.

Update your inventory list annually.

Once you have completed your inventory, leave a sealed copy with trusted relatives or friends, or put it in a safe deposit box. Do not leave your only copy at home, where it might be destroyed.

Finally, do what you can. Even a partial list will be better than nothing should a wildfire or disaster strike. Youíll have the peace of mind that comes from taking action, rather than waiting to be a victim.

Cindi Shank is executive director of the Southwest Colorado chapter of the American Red Cross.

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