Take inventory of important items

Your record of what you own will help when filing a claim in the event of a loss

Take inventory of your household contents

Organize critical items

Major losses resulting from perils such as fire, earthquake, flood or theft are rarely planned for and provide little or no time to prepare. The peril may involve evacuation orders, which is the case for residents in one part of B.C. or another every year, and even in these situations, residents have very little time to organize.

If you should suffer a major loss, it will be a great relief - both financially and emotionally - to know that you have insurance. But then comes the daunting task of documenting your lost possessions for the claim.

The best strategy is to be prepared in advance by compiling and maintaining an inventory of your belongings and by storing critical items so that you can take them with you if necessary or retrieve them safely afterward.

Take inventory of your household contents

Your record of what possessions you own will constitute proof of ownership when filing a claim. Without such documentation, you may have to itemize your possessions from memory, which can be an arduous task. Today's digital technology makes the task of compiling a home inventory easy and more accurate.

Digital documentation: Use a video camera or digital camera to make a visual record of the items in your home. Simply walk through your house methodically, filming as you go, ensuring that all rooms, hallways, garages and storage areas are included. Capture the details of the contents of shelves, closets, cupboards and drawers; you own more than you think you do! It's a good idea to film close-ups of serial numbers or distinguishing features of valuable items for further proof in the event of theft.

Written inventory: Many people prefer written inventory lists. Record the items you own; how many pieces of each item there are; what their make, model, and year are; and serial number of each item (if applicable). Be particularly thorough with your most valuable items, such as jewellery, electronics or collections.

Scan or copy receipts, appraisals and other certification of valuation for your more expensive items.

Make two copies of the video, photos or written inventory and store them separately: keep one with your other critical items so that it's easily accessible in case of emergency. Keep the other copy in a secure place away from your premises. If your inventory is entirely digital and you're considering a "cloud" storage option, review the terms and conditions to ensure it offers sufficient privacy and security. It's not advisable to store such information on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets that can be lost or stolen. Your best bet may be to store a copy of your inventory with a family member or in another secure location.

If you are going to be away from your home for an extended period of time, arrange for a friend, neighbour or security firm to keep an eye on your home. It's a good idea to provide this person with emergency instructions for accessing your home inventory list, so that if a break-in occurs, he or she can provide the police with a list of what was there prior to the theft.

Keep your inventory current by adding documentation of new acquisitions. This will simplify the task of updating your inventory, and will also serve as a reminder at policy-renewal time as to whether any changes are necessary.

Organize critical items

If you have to leave your home quickly, with no guarantee that it will be in the same condition upon your return, what will you take? Under such stressful circumstances, you may not remember everything. Be prepared by storing important items and backups in a safe, convenient location:

Identification and documentation: It's good practice to carry photo identification, in the form of a driver's license or government-issued ID card, and your medical CareCard at all times. However, you should not carry your birth certificate, social insurance card or passport with you unless you need them for a specific purpose, as these items are difficult to replace if they are lost or stolen. Store them along with your marriage license, wills, professional certifications, insurance papers and other important documents in a manner that's safe, but you can access them when you need them.

Data backups: Include with your critical items a copy of your computer's backup disks, your contact lists and your home inventory, to make it easier for you to get your life back on track after the event.

Cherished photos and mementos: Items that are irreplaceable to you and your family should be stored in a safe, dry place, not in your basement or storage locker where they may be damaged by moisture or temperature fluctuations.

Prepare a checklist now so that you can act quickly in an emergency, taking into consideration:

  • Specific needs (e.g., clothing, medication) of children, family members and pets
  • Requirements for cash, food, transportation, lodging, communication. During the hours or days following the emergency, you may need to rely on whatever cash or assets you have with you to cover your immediate needs.

Most home insurance policies will reimburse you for your living expenses after a covered peril, such as fire, causes you to evacuate your home. Contact your insurance broker as soon as you are evacuated or the emergency has passed. Your broker will guide you on what to do next, whether it involves reimbursing you for your expenses or filing a claim.