I often tell policyholders, be it associations, unit owners, or homeowners, to be sure to document their personal property before a loss occurs. This is especially important for unit owners that have downsized from larger houses and may keep some of their property in storage. Often pictures, or even a video, can make all the difference in getting a claim paid.

The peril of not documenting all personal property was recently felt by a 92 year old woman in Palm Springs California. This tragic story began when Erica Haines, a Holocaust survivor and double amputee requiring constant assistance from caregivers, noticed some of her gold silverware was missing from her home. When she realized that it was not simply one piece that had been misplaced, she and her current nurse began taking inventory of her personal property to see what was missing.

In the end, Ms. Haines was missing a great deal of the personal property she had collected over her life including clothing, cameras, rare books, original paintings, medicine, jewelry, and even a spare set of prosthetic legs! All in all, it appears that unscrupulous caregivers had stolen approximately $145,000 from the elderly woman.

Understandably distraught, Haines notified the police, obtained a police report, and filed a claim with Fire Insurance Exchange (a Farmers Insurance Group company) with whom she had maintained a policy since 1967.

According to the lawsuit filed on her behalf, Farmers never even sent an adjuster to the home. Instead, Farmers sent her a letter less than two weeks later denying the claim because “she could not prove that the thefts had occurred”!

While it is unclear what, if anything, Ms. Haines could have done to “prove” her claim to Farmers, this story underscores the importance of thoroughly documenting your possessions before a loss occurs. Without proof that the possessions indeed existed, it is more difficult to get a claim paid.