When arguing with an adjuster over the value of your personal property claim, receipts can be an invaluable tool. But who keeps receipts? When dealing with theft or loss of property, you may actually have receipts; however in a total loss situation such as a fire, often the receipts are destroyed along with the property. Without fail, your adjuster will ask for receipts to determine the actual existence of lost property and the value. Under the basic homeowner’s policy, the insured has certain duties that must be complied with after a loss. Included in this is that the insured:

Prepare an inventory of damaged personal property showing the quantity, description, actual cash value and amount of loss. Attach all bills, receipts and related documents that justify the figures in the inventory;

An insured also has a duty to cooperate with the insurer’s investigation. This obligation is often read in conjunction with the requirement to produce receipts and other documents. The Washington Court of Appeals held a failure to produce requested documents is a breach of the duty to cooperate, triggering a denial in coverage.

We conclude that there is no real issue as to Herman’s obligation to cooperate with SAFECO’s requests under the policy and no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that Herman cooperated in the investigation or settlement of the claim before SAFECO denied it on December 20, 1996. Her failure to cooperate, therefore, constitutes a breach of the cooperation clause as a matter of law.1

What the carrier cannot request is something you do not have. Review your policy carefully; nowhere does it say a claim can be denied if you do not have a receipt for your personal property. Failure to have a receipt is not grounds for an automatic denial, but it could trigger a further investigation, including an examination under oath. Whether you have receipts or not, you cannot ignore the request. New Jersey’s courts have held that an insured must seek declaratory judgment if they cannot or will not produce records:

Thus, we hold that an insured in these circumstances must promptly file a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of its obligation to produce the records demanded by its insurer under an insurance policy when the insured objects to their production. The insured may not wait to assert his rights until the eve of the expiration of the statute of limitations for filing suit to compel coverage. Such delay works too great a hardship to the insurer who must be able to promptly investigate the legitimacy of claims.2

If your carrier is demanding documents you can not or do not want to produce, speak to a qualified insurance attorney to determine your rights and the proper course of action.


1 Herman v. SAFECO Ins. Co. of America, 104 Wash. App. 783, 789, 17 P. 3d 631, 634 (2001).
2 DiFrancisco v. Chubb Ins. Co., 283 N.J.Super. 601, 614. (App. Div 1995).

  • A helpful resource for keeping an inventory is http://www.knowyourstuff.org This website sponsored by the Insurance Information Institute. It is a free, secure online storage site that allows homeowners to keep a detailed inventory of their Personal Property. I suggest to my clients that they take advantage of this service and the great thing is even if a fire or other peril destroys home computer or written documents, this important info would still be safe and secure online.

  • Chip Merlin

    Good post.

    The only exception to this is National Flood. The National Flood policy requires invoices and receipts for some replaced items to be kept for payment of the next flood claim..

  • Chip Merlin

    Keith,

    The problem is that people have a running inventory and unlike a business where assets are somewhat tracked, I know of nobody tht keeps a running inventory of the personal belongings and stuff.

    In the real world, it just does not happen. I have never seen a client who has made a list of personal property before a loss. If I did, even I would be suspicious about the preparation for a loss.

    However, I have seen instances where clients have video/photographs of the premises and belongings. This is much easier. Indeed, there is usually enough time to do so before a hurricane event.

    At least you have your customers thinking about what they own before a loss. Most people own more than they think they do. Their personal property is usually undervalued on a replacement cost basis.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Sara

    What are the acceptable types of ‘documentation’ that can be provided to the insurance company? Are they only limited to photos/videos, receipts, credit card and or banking statements? What about things not in photos or videos, that were paid for with cash?

    We had a total fire loss, that after a month of being treated like criminals, was approved by Nationwide….on your side….

    We have turned in 2 contents lists (doing the best I can trying to remember everything in a 3000sq ft home, so I list what I can and send it) with no problems, only to have the adjuster ask for documentation/proof of ownership with the 3rd contents list, my children’s toys….Which I find arbitrary and capricious. We are not even at a 1/4 of what our total contents policy amount is.

    We have no receipts of any kind, but we have a few people who can attest to the fact that our children had the types of toys listed, as well as other things. Can friends, neighbors, family etc.. be considered a form of documentation? That’s all we can possibly supply to the adjuster for ‘proof’.

    One would think when I sign my name on each page of the contents list, that has the legal stuff about how it’s against the law to commit fraud etc etc etc, would be good enough….as it was on the first 2 contents list.

    Thank you