By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: How can I make sure that my parents' property and valuables are accurately catalogued in case of a disaster or theft? James in Rhode Island, 48

ANSWER: I'm glad you asked, since far too many people don't even think to inventory their property until something has gone terribly wrong?and then it's too late. I always start outside the home and inventory all that is there. Then I go through the entire residence and capture every single item either on video or as a photo. Video works better since you can verbally discuss details of each item like how much it is worth, where it was purchased, etc.

Many people don't know everything they have in their possession until they go through this process. The worst case scenario is when nothing has been done and a calamity occurs. Then you are left trying to recall exactly what you had while you are dealing with the trauma of the negative event. So start this process as soon as possible.

Go through the home and capture a wide view of each room, and then open each drawer to document everything in more detail. If it's a jewelry box, I like to spread out the jewelry on the bed so that each item can be clearly seen. The same goes for every closet. First, I capture a panoramic view, and then I pull out each item to document one fur hat, four suits, a pair of boots, etc. I also show the front of any valuable silverware, and then turn it over and note any unique markings. All of this also helps when you have to fill out an insurance and/or police report. The more detailed the information is the better to get prompt action.

Once you have documented everything, be sure to place the video, photos, and written notes in a very safe place. I suggest a safe deposit box or a lock box somewhere outside the home. That way, if something terrible occurs like a fire or flood, you know the documentation will be in good shape. You can purchase a lock box in most local hardware stores.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.