Anyone who has lost possessions in a fire, theft or natural disaster knows what a headache the insurance claims process can be.
Rather than jump through hoops after a stressful event that requires an insurance claim, a better idea would be to document everything you own now.
“If someone were to experience a burglary or theft, it would be much easier for them to know what was taken,” said Courtney Quinn, director of innovation at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston.
While inventorying belongings may seem like an overwhelming exercise, several smartphone apps can simplify the process, including an inventory manager for iPad called “What I Own” and a home inventory application offered by Liberty Mutual called “Our Home Gallery.”
“What I Own” allows users to add photos of their possessions, receipts and other important information such as warranties. It is available for download in the Apple App Store for $4.99. Liberty Mutual’s home inventory app offers the same services to its clients and the public at no cost.
Such apps make it possible to store images of possessions, as well as information such as purchase price and date for each item. The details can be exported to save on a home computer or another device as a backup record.
Even if the furniture isn’t Chippendale or the China isn’t Haviland, home owners will still want to have precious possessions replaced if they are damaged or stolen. Records should include information on brands, makes, models, date of purchase and serial numbers if available.
For every $1 of insurance coverage on a home structure, personal possessions typically are covered for 50 cents to 75 cents, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York. For example, if a structure is covered for $100,000, personal possessions would be covered for $50,000 to $75,000.
“You have more possessions than you think,” said Michael Barry, vice president of media relations for the Insurance Information Institute. “Imagine if you turned your house upside down. A lot of expensive things would come out.”
The institute also has a free home inventory app to document possessions called “Know Your Stuff.” The application can be accessed at KnowYourStuff.org.
In 2012, jewelry losses were the top category of stolen items from homes (16 percent), followed by electronics and apparel (both 13 percent). Furniture (10 percent) and tools (5 percent) came next, according to inventory services firm Enservio in Needham, Mass.
Quinn said a home inventory can also help determine if an owner has the right amount of coverage.
“Many people don’t know how much their things are worth, and when you go through the effort of creating an inventory it forces you to consider how much all the things you own are worth,” she said. “That will help someone know how much coverage they need.
“A great example of this is renters who insure for all their personal property. If they go through all their possessions in an inventory, they will see they have a lot that is worth insuring.”