Everyone has heard — or lived — the horror stories about apartment rentals that end badly, or home improvement projects that end in disaster, or family loans that end in hard feelings and unfortunate estrangements. Sometimes, there is no way to avoid a dispute that ends in getting lawyers and judges involved. But it doesn’t always have to get to that point. This is the legal advice I give most frequently: document, document, document!

A fireproof box for your documentation is critical.

Many legal issues can be successfully solved IF you have proper documentation. So whenever you are involved in any significant transaction, take a few extra minutes to document – in writing, photos or video — the important elements of that transaction. Make notes as soon as possible after the transaction.

If you loan money to someone, even family, document it in writing signed by both you and the other person providing or receiving the money.

If you rent an apartment, take a video of the condition of the apartment both when you move in and when you move out.

If you are buying a new or used vehicle, keep a record of what the dealer or seller said and all paperwork.

If you are hiring someone to fix your roof or some other part of your property, document all the important details: scope of the work, total cost, timeframe for completion.

If you are renting a car or a truck, keep all the paperwork, be sure you read it, and take photos before and after you use the car. Be present when the rental agency receives the car and examines it, if possible, to avoid an unanticipated charge later on your credit card.

If you are renting a vacation home for a weekend or a week or a month, take photos and get signed paperwork, even if you are staying at a friend’s house or a shared family house.

Finally, if you are a homeowner, a comprehensive home inventory is critical. The comprehensive report should include detailed descriptions and photos of the personal property in and around your home. While considered a key component in documenting insurance claims, a home inventory is also valuable for estate and financial planning.

A home inventory helps make sure that homeowners are sufficiently prepared, in terms of their insurance coverage, to deal with potential losses. A detailed list of all items destroyed, damaged or stolen is required for most insurance claims. Proper documentation ensures a faster and smoother claims process, as well as maximizing your insurance reimbursement.

In fact, you must provide documented proof of ownership to receive a settlement covering the full extent of the loss. According to the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, most policyholders do not realize that the burden of proof rests with them.

Taking a few extra minutes to document can prevent many nightmares down the road. Get in the habit of documenting everything. You’ll be glad you did.

Keep your documentation organized and in a safe place. Download notes and photos to a backup drive that can be stored in a safe, secure, and fireproof box. There’s no sense doing the work without protecting the end product, too.

Bottom line: Any time you’re involved in a project or transaction of significant size (that size varies for everyone), remember to make notes and/or take photos or videos. Documentation is protection.

Thank you for reading,


Jim Reed
Managing Partner
Best Lawyers’ “2015 & 2017 & 2019 Lawyer of the Year”

NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and