Disaster Tips – Suggestions on how to Reconstruct Records for Individuals

I get asked often about disaster related questions.  Most of the time we are answering them after a disaster strikes, but I hope you are reading this before a disaster strikes.  If so, please take the time to save some of these records ahead of time in a water tight safe or water tight bag or box.  This will help you in the long run if a disaster were to strike.  However, if you are reading this and disaster already found you, then please do your best using the tips below to gather the information you may need.

Taxpayers who are victims of a disaster might need to reconstruct records to prove their loss. Doing this may be essential for tax purposes, getting federal assistance, or insurance reimbursement.

Here are 12 things taxpayers can do to help reconstruct their records after a disaster:

  1. Taxpayers can get free tax return transcripts by using the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov, or use their smartphone with the IRS2Go mobile phone app. They can also call 800-908-9946 to order them by phone.  Also, those people in the areas affected by Harvey, Irma and Maria have their fees waived using Form 4506-T
  2. To establish the extent of the damage, taxpayers should take photographs or videos as soon after the disaster as possible.  If you are reading this and have not been affected by a disaster yet or you were blessed to not have any damage, then please take photographs and/or video now and save them for the next time.
  3. Taxpayers can contact the title company, escrow company, or bank that handled the purchase of their home to get copies of appropriate documents.  If you don’t know the title company, contact your realtor.  If you don’t remember the realtor, try contacting the local real estate association and maybe they can help you figure it all out.
  4. Home owners should review their insurance policy as the policy usually lists the value of a building to establish a base figure for replacement.
  5. Taxpayers who made improvements to their home should contact the contractors who did the work to see if records are available. If possible, the home owner should get statements from the contractors to verify the work and cost. They can also get written accounts from friends and relatives who saw the house before and after any improvements.
  6. For inherited property, taxpayers can check court records for probate values. If a trust or estate existed, the taxpayer can contact the attorney who handled the trust or possibly the tax preparer.
  7. When no other records are available, taxpayers can check the county assessor’s office for old records that might address the value of the property.
  8. There are several resources that can help someone determine the current fair-market value of most cars on the road. These resources are all available online and at most libraries:
    1. Kelley’s Blue Book
    2. National Automobile Dealers Association
    3. Edmunds
  9. Taxpayers can look on their mobile phone or computer for pictures that show the damaged property before the disaster.
  10. Taxpayers can support the valuation of property with photographs, videos, canceled checks, receipts, or other evidence.
  11. If they bought items using a credit card or debit card, they should contact their credit card company or bank for past statements.
  12. If a taxpayer doesn’t have photographs or videos of their property, a simple method to help them remember what items they lost is to sketch pictures of each room that was impacted.