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Insuring an Heirloom

Although homeowners and renters insurance covers personal items in addition to your dwelling, it’s not always enough to cover your most valuable property. Items like jewelry may be insured, but generally only up to a per-item limit around $1,000 to $2,000. If you have valuables that have been passed down through the family, say, a Fabergé egg or some historical documents, you’ll have to do a little more to be sure that they’re properly protected.

Get It Appraised

If you have something that you value, you need to know exactly what it’s worth. A doll purchased in the 1920s for $2 may be worth a great deal more now. In order to insure such objects, you should have them authenticated and appraised by a professional. Make sure the appraiser is not only certified, but has expertise in the area you need. For example, a jewelry expert probably has no business determining the value of a Revolutionary War era pistol.

Consumer Reports recommends these organizations to help you find a qualified appraiser:

Decide How to Insure It

One option for insuring an heirloom is to add a Scheduled Personal Property Endorsement to your policy. This will increase your premium a little while adding specific coverage for your high-value property. Contact your insurance agent for more information about the cost increase involved in your case.

If the object (or objects) has qualities that make it more prone to a particular kind of loss, you may choose to take out a separate insurance policy for it. A good example would be a collection of large but delicate paintings that cannot be stored in a safe to prevent damage or theft. Your insurance agent will be able to tell you how they could tailor coverage to exactly meet your needs (and budget).

It’s important to note that there are also companies that specialize in insuring certain kinds of antiques. For example, there are a number of businesses with coverage specifically designed for classic automobiles. Before you dive into a custom policy with your home insurer, shop around to see if your needs will be met more perfectly by a specialty insurer. These businesses may be much more expensive and comprehensive than you require, but you’ll probably learn some good questions to ask your insurer. If nothing else, you might even learn something new about your heirloom!

Protecting Items of Sentimental Value

Unfortunately, insurers deal strictly with value. An old tapestry stitched by your grandmother or a military uniform worn by your grandfather, while priceless to you, may be worth no more than $30 to $50 in the eyes of an insurance company. If something happens to these objects, the sentiment is gone forever.

This means it’s up to you to protect them. Stuffing this kind of important family memorabilia into a cardboard box for storage in the basement is a very bad idea. A fireproof, flood-proof safe is more like it. With the help of the internet, you can find information on how to correctly conserve your particular piece of history. For example, paper items should be stored out of the light, in a stable environment under 70°F with a relative humidity between 35% and 50%. Great information on storing textiles can be found at this page from the Smithsonian Institution: si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI

Heirlooms are important to every family, but preserving your history shouldn’t stress you out. Once you’ve set in place the right insurance and conservation, you won’t have to worry about it ever again ¾ unless you move!