Can we really trust a moving company to pack and ship all our valuables on a relocation?

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Nationally recognized, fully insured companies with a strong reputation, correct licensing (and a US Department of Transportation, or DOT, number) and a great track record typically have experience handling every aspect of very complex moves. Hire one of these firms and, in most cases, you can feel confident about your choice.

However, at the same time, you want to take all necessary steps to insure your property. There is some legwork involved before you should allow a mover to start packing your possessions, but at the end of the process, you’ll have put together a great written inventory of all your belongings, something many homeowners put off creating until it’s too late—and have no record when a disaster, like a fire or break-in, occurs.

Your first step is to find out what existing coverage you have through your homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Are you covered for any breakage, theft or loss by the movers or simply for damage from a natural disaster? Ask your personal insurance agent to spell out what you have and don’t have.

Next, if you do need additional insurance, find out from the moving company what they offer. Standard insurance, called “released value protection,” is typically very small and, for most items, won’t be enough to replace them because it’s set at $.60 per pound. If your brand new, high-tech 10-pound desktop gets broken, you’d get a mere $6, though the computer might have cost you $1000 or more. That’s where replacement insurance comes in. Called “full value protection,” it’s added insurance you pay for and that should cover replacing any lost, damaged or destroyed items at their full replacement value. Read the fine print on the policy your mover offers: It might specify that the insurer has the option to try to repair a damaged item before taking the step of replacing it.

Though you want to detail all your possessions (more on this below), you must notify the mover of high value items—those worth more than $100 a pound, like a plasma TV or grandma’s heirloom silverware. The moving company should provide you with a special form to fill out in detail.

In addition to paying for adequate insurance coverage, you want to put together the right documentation for as many of your items as possible—if the mover loses or breaks something, it’s up to you to prove its worth. This proof will enable any claims to be quickly settled.

Be sure to understand exactly how each item must be properly documented. A clear, dated purchase receipt is great to show its cost, but don’t stop there. With the camera on your smartphone, you can easily create an exact visual document of your possessions to go with each receipt, and record everything in a room-by-room inventory booklet. Sounds like a lot of work, but this is exactly what you’d need to do to file a homeowner’s insurance claim as well—so the record you’re creating will be valuable long after your move is completed.

To get started, State Farm has a great form you can download to create and organize your home inventory at Fill it in, snap your photos and then file it someplace safe.