After the shock of robbery or disaster such as a fire wears off, you’ll be faced with figuring out what was stolen or destroyed so that you can file both a police report (in case of theft) and an insurance claim on your homeowners insurance policy. Here are some basic guidelines to help you authenticate the value of lost or stolen property.
First of all, congratulate yourself for not scrimping on coverage. You bought a policy that covers the Replacement Cost Value (RCV) of your item versus an Actual Cash Value (ACV) policy. While ACVs are the industry standard, you may be sadly disappointed to receive a check that subtracts depreciation from what you actually paid for the item; or pays fair market value — what somebody shopping for your item might be willing to pay for it. In either instance, you may be hard pressed to replace your stolen property to your pre-loss satisfaction. An RCV policy, on the other hand, will reimburse you for what it will actually cost you to go buy a new or comparable item.
Next, call the police immediately. You may not know yet exactly what’s been stolen, but file a report anyway. Get the name and contact information of the officer you speak to so you can follow up on your case and add to your report if you realize more items are missing. By the way, this is not the time to pad your losses by filing a false report. That’s a crime and it could also result in a cancelled homeowners’ policy and difficulty finding coverage in the future.
After you contact the police, call your insurance agent or provider to confirm when and how to file a claim.
Now’s when you’ll be very happy that you’ve taken the following precautions, because they’ll make verifying the replacement value of your property so much easier and will likely facilitate your claim processing.
Keep a file of receipts for every new purchase, along with a photo of your item. Video tape your belongings with a voice-over identifying each object in detail. Don’t forget to open you closets, cupboards and cabinets to make a record your clothing, shoes, linens, small appliances, cutlery, dishes, books, record and CD collections, etc. Luxury items like artworks and antiques should be photographed in the actual setting they occupy in your home, from several angles, with the date of the photo marked on the back (or even better, a dated item such as a newspaper in the photo). Trust us, you won’t remember everything – so make the tape.
If the item is a collectible, antique or expensive piece of jewelry, along with any receipts, have it professionally appraised by a qualified appraiser. An appraisal is a legal document in the eyes of your insurance company. The fact that your Aunt Bessie told you that brooch was worth 25 grand won’t hold any weight.
In addition to an appraisal, you should get a certificate of authentication for luxury items including fine jewelry and works of art. This will provide proof that your Rollex really was a Rollex and your Picasso wasn’t an art student’s knock-off.
Keep a copy of your receipts, photos, video tapes, certificates and appraisals and store the originals in a safety deposit box off site. You might also want to give a copy of your documents along with safe deposit box key to a trusted relative or friend, ideally one who lives some distance from your home. A next door neighbor’s home might be victimized by the same robber or destroyed in the same fire. Keep another copy of everything at your office.