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When disaster strikes: Document valuables now to avoid stress later

Posted June 12

— Most of us can't list all the important things in our homes from memory -- but that's exactly what we'd have to do if a disaster hit. Luckily, there is a simple solution.

If you want your homeowners insurance to pay for everything destroyed in a fire or natural disaster, you need an accurate inventory of the items, according to experts at Consumer Reports. That includes everything in your kitchen -- dishes, pots and pans -- and items in other rooms like furniture, linens, clothes, electronics and art.

Making the list of everything sounds excruciating, but experts say it can be as easy as pulling out your smartphone or camera.

Before a fire, hurricane, flood or tornado hits, document all your items with a video. “It doesn't have to be complicated," said Tobie Stanger, an editor at Consumer Reports. "You can even use the camera on your phone.”

Hit record and try to capture everything you own by opening closets, cabinets and drawers, and describe what you see as you record, saying things like "bowls in drawer" or "Fitz and Floyd Monmartre 12-piece setting."

Experts say you should take video of nearly everything -- from your major appliances to the books and trinkets in your bookcase. Be sure to capture brand names and serial numbers, officials say, so your insurer can replace what you had with exact or similar items, and don't move too quickly.

When disaster strikes: Document valuables now to avoid stress later

What should you not include?

“Focus on what’s valuable," said Stanger. "You can skip the cleaning supplies in a closet, for instance. An insurance adjuster is likely to create a ‘bulk estimate’ for those things anyway.”

When you're finished, put the video onto a thumb drive and upload it into the cloud or stash it in a safe place so it’s there when you need it.

You can even check with your insurance company, as many offer web-based tools to guide you through the inventory process.

Check Consumer Reports' online buying guide to learn more.

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