In Case Of Fire Or Theft Keep A List

This is one chore you don't want to put off until disaster strikes. If you come home to find the place ransacked--or not there at all, as Hurricane Andrew victims did--you'll be glad you made an inventory of your possessions. Even a simple list of items and their value can make the difference between a quick claim recovery and an insurance nightmare.

Most homeowner's policies supply you with a checklist for your belongings. For a more organized tracking system, you can buy software for your personal computer. Personal Record Keeper (Nolo Press; $49.95) is a complete package for IBM-compatible PCs or Macintosh computers that includes electronic forms for wills, taxes, securities, and inventory-taking. MyTreasures (MySoftware; $14.95) is an inventory program only, for IBM compatibles.

Personal Record Keeper organizes possessions by category--furniture, appliances, collectibles, etc. It has room for descriptions and asks such questions as: Did you buy the item, inherit it, or receive it as a gift? Where is it located? How much did it cost? What's the replacement value?

WORTH 1,000 WORDS. Whether you choose the high-tech route or prefer a handwritten list, you first need to grab a notepad and start walking. Go through each room and closet methodically, jotting down all items worth more than $25. Think like an insurance agent or police officer. Note the makes, models, and serial numbers. Save sales receipts, especially for big-ticket items.

Once you've got a paper or computer file, it's time for the camera. Taking clear, color pictures makes it easier for claims agents to verify value. Making a video is even better. Remember to update your list and the photo record as soon as possible after acquiring something new. Did you upgrade your computer? Get an expensive lamp? Buy a pearl necklace?

Although you don't get any breaks on your insurance premiums for making an inven-tory, the cost and time spent are well worth it. "A robbery or natural disaster is a traumatic time for people," says Mary DiLeo, a spokeswoman for Aetna Life & Casualty. "They aren't focusing on the little details, and having an up-to-date inventory makes everything go a lot smoother." Just make sure you stash it in a safe place--other than your home.

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