Property Insurance Claims: Take Photos

I just handled a burglary loss for a very nice woman in Atlanta. She decided to go to the market at about 8:30 pm on a Wednesday evening in late May. She began to drive toward the market and noticed four teenaged boys standing in a park very near her home. She hesitated for a moment, then continued to the market.

When she returned at 8:55 pm, she found that someone had broken through her back door and stole jewelry, cash, a TV, a laptop and some expensive handbags. Her claim totaled over $20,000. Only $1,500 of that were for repairs to the back door.

I provided a Contents Inventory Worksheet so she could list all the items stolen. She submitted the worksheet quickly. Unfortunately, she had no receipts or any other kind of documents to prove that she actually owned the stolen items. Even photos of her stuff would have helped to prove she owned it. But no photos either.

The insurance company wanted to pay some of the claim, but insisted that she provide some documentation. She could not. The insurance company denied the Contents portion of the loss, and paid her only $500 after assessing her $1,000 deductible.

Gentle readers, this is not an isolated incident in the claims process for property claims. Insurance companies are serious about holding down their claims cost. And it is YOUR responsibility to prove your claim.

You have a legal contract with the insurance company. Part of that legal contract requires you to provide proof of ownership of your contents. The insurance companies give a lot of latitude in these matters, but remember that they don’t have to.

Most people are not going to create a master file of all their receipts for the stuff they buy, and then keep that file in a fireproof box or off-site. So, most people who have a fire, flood, burglary, hurricane or water loss are going to be faced with proving ownership of their personal property.

So, remember this: The NUMBER ONE most important thing that you can do to prove ownership of your personal property is to PHOTOGRAPH IT.

Get a camcorder, or digital camera, or even disposable cameras. Go through your home or business and capture your personal property “on film.” Do it once a year, and then remember to update after every major purchase…like a new computer or flat-screen TV. Don’t leave anything out. Even photo inside drawers and closets.

Take the photos or video and place them off-site. I recommend a safe deposit box.

Then, in case of a disaster, you have some visual proof of your loss. You could review the video or photos and compile your inventory list. You could submit a copy of the photos or video as proof of ownership.

The photo/video process takes me an hour when I do it. And that’s filming in average sized home.

Don’t take a chance by being unprepared. It could cost you tens of thousands of dollars at claim time.

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