Several years ago I furnished my mother’s apartment for her. I needed a place to store my excess things while I was out of state and living with a friend, and my mom had just lost her furniture to burst water pipes and no insurance. She’s elderly and loved my furniture, so it worked out for us both — until she developed dementia and the courts appointed a guardian to care for her.
The court-appointed guardian sold all of my furniture because I had no proof it was mine. My mother’s mental capacities were too far-gone to explain the situation. When it came time to furnish my next apartment, I had nothing and had to live with the knowledge everything I owned had been sold out from under me.
The simple act of photographing the furniture, having a signed agreement and then putting my name and contact information on a label or sticker on the back or bottom of the furniture would have resolved the issue in a matter of minutes. As it was, I lost everything when mother was moved to a nursing home.
There are other ways you can lose your favorite items:
- Medical necessity (nursing home or health care etc)
- Roommate split
- Family squabble over an item
- Breaking up with boyfriend/girlfriend
- Fire, flood or natural disaster
It’s hard to remember or prove who paid for what when you’re going through a breakup or move of any kind. Furniture is one thing, but cookware, CDs, DVDs, video games, books, knick knacks, tools — sometimes even clothing and shoes — and other things you don’t think twice about until someone else says they’re theirs, can become very important really fast.
Good thing the world is digital. All you need to do when you buy a new item is sign the receipt, scan it or take a photo of it WITH the item in the same photo, and upload your files to a free photo account online. Store the paper receipt in a file as well, but know that your items are safe online too.
If you’re going away to college, moving in with a roommate, girlfriend or boyfriend/ or getting married, it’s a smart thing to do all this before you actually move in.
The next step is to buy some good labels or a permanent marker and/or an engraving pen. If you can’t afford an engraving pen, check with the neighborhood watch group of your local police department. They will often loan you one of theirs (you’ll have to leave a driver’s license or deposit, which you’ll get back when you return the pen). Take time to etch your name and a phone number or email address somewhere on the item. Don’t use your Social Security number in case you later sell or give the item away. Chances are you’ll forget to scratch it out and then your SSN will be out in the world for the taking.
Sure, you’ll feel like you’re 10 years old and going away to summer camp with your name on everything, but you’ll be glad you did it if you ever have a bad breakup. You don’t have to write your name on all your clothing. You can sew on a button or small bead in a seam or someplace to let you know it’s yours without announcing to the world it is.
If you are storing, loaning or giving furniture to a family member, particularly an adult child, be sure and spell out the gift in a contract and have it notarized, especially if there are other family members who might object if they find out about the gift. Death often brings out the drama in families, and this will prevent family members of accusing another of stealing an item you gave away before you passed on.
There’s nothing wrong with being clear and matter-of-fact about whose stuff is whose, and it’s easiest to do this when you first get the items, or first move in. The problems come up when you are upset and can’t remember, or when you’re in the middle of a domestic dispute, or you’re arguing about other things. To prevent that headache before it happens, keep track of things as you get them.