How Do You Create A Personal Property Inventory When Everything Is Gone?

Personal resiliency begins at home by planning for recovery

Each year communities across our nation endure a wide range of natural and man-made disasters that cause multitudes of individuals and families to lose their homes and personal property. Whether it is a major disaster like a tornado, wildfire, or hurricane, or a smaller more everyday event like a house fire or pipe burst, disasters frequently occur and when one does, you will need to be able to answer the most common post-disaster question – “What do I do now?”

When first responders leave the scene of a disaster the survivors are typically left on their own to face the daunting task of navigating through the recovery process. For those who have lost their home or who have been displaced, this can be the beginning of a nightmare, especially if they haven’t prepared or planned for recovery in advance. The days, weeks, and months that follow a disaster requires planning, perseverance, and a lot of patience. Otherwise, the state of chaos created by a disaster, coupled with the lack of knowledge of what to do in the aftermath can easily transform a disaster survivor into a disaster victim.

What about all my stuff?

One element of the recovery process that is rarely spoken about but tends to be one of the most difficult tasks a disaster survivor will face is creating an inventory of all the personal belongings that have been damaged or destroyed. Let’s say your home was hit by a tornado and as you come out of the storm cellar all you see is a bare concrete slab with a toilet left standing in the middle. Your yard is strewn with debris from your neighbors down the street and you have no idea where your 20 plus years of accumulation went, except for the pair of underwear hanging in the tree across the street. You’ll call your insurance company and a couple days later your adjuster shows up and tells you that in order for you to receive the full benefits of your insurance coverage, you will need to provide a detailed inventory of everything you owned, including a detailed description of each item, its age, replacement cost, and any supporting documentation you might have in the form of photos or receipts. You are then given a stack of blank inventory sheets and a pen and told that you only have a limited amount of time to turn it in. So now what do you do?

Great ideas to create your personal inventory!

Imagine trying to remember everything you had in your home when you have no photos, receipts, or recollection. On one hand you don’t want to commit insurance fraud by claiming items in your inventory that you are not sure you had and on the other hand you have a considerable amount of replacement coverage in the policy you purchased to cover everything that was lost.

Here is where the challenge begins. In order to embark on this undertaking, you will need to have a clear frame of mind, lots of time, and plenty of support (most of which may be in short supply).

One way to accomplish this task is to try and visualize what you had room by room and ask friends or family members if they have photos that may have been taken in your home during a holiday gathering, party, or family get-together. Oftentimes photos like these can reveal furnishings, decor, or other items in the background that will help jog your memory.

Look through store catalogs or on-line stores as another resource to help. Keep in mind, this process can be very time consuming to get you the level of detail you will need to get the full benefits of your insurance. Consider the process for completing an inventory of the contents in your kitchen. If you are like most, you might jot down the obvious items like appliances, silverware, utensils, cookware, and cutlery and figure the smaller items just aren’t worth the time and energy to deal with. But what about the food that was in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, the wine, vitamins, supplements, spices, cookbooks, cleaning supplies under the sink, hand utensils, stuff in the junk drawer, CD’s, phone chargers, batteries, gift cards, paper products, pet supplies, tools, and so forth? You paid a lot of hard earned money for these items and these little things add up quick. Try to include everything in your inventory.

Try a Google search for “personal property inventory”. You will find lots of online forms, tips, and resources that have been designed specifically for the inventory of your home. Also look for “recovery stories” from disaster survivors. You can’t pay for the kind of tips and examples that come from those who have already travelled the road you are on. Keep in mind however, everyone will have a unique experience and just because one story was a nightmare does not mean it will happen to you. The more you know, the better you can control how your story will unfold.

The challenge here is the time it takes to try and remember all of what you had and adding details for all the smaller items when you have so many other pressing matters that consume your time. But look at it this way, if you were walking down the street and saw a bunch of $5’s, $10’s, and $20 dollar bills laying around, wouldn’t you take the time to pick them up? Of course you would.

The bottom line is this; if you want to fully recover the maximum benefits of your insurance and expedite the recovery process so you can rebuild your life, then you have to take the time to get the details down on paper and use the tools available to you that will help you accomplish this task.

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