Reconstructing Records After a Disaster
It is hard to believe that we are almost half way through 2022. Once again hurricane season is upon us and with the yearly prediction of an active and more intense season, it is never too early to be prepared.
By now all your important documents should be in an electronic format and backed up so that they can be accessed from any location. Having access to financial records after a disaster may be important in order to: (1) document tax deductible losses, (2) claim insurance benefits, (3) obtain federal assistance and (4) substantiate other tax related transactions.
If you have not yet done so, take steps now to:
- Secure and safeguard important documents. These include not just documents regarding property, but also insurance policies, passports, birth certificates, social security cards and other important financial and personal documents.
- Document the condition of real and personal property by taking pictures or videos. These can be maintained on your cell phone and backed up.
- Make sure similar steps have been taken with regard to your business.
What if despite your best efforts, you lose important records in a disaster? The following may help you reconstruct records.
Reconstructing Tax Records
You can create an account at www.irs.gov. This will provide you immediate access to the last three years of filed returns and payor information such as W-2s, 1099s and 1098s. You can also access transcripts of your tax account for the last ten years.
If you are unable to create an account with the IRS, you can request copies of the last three years of tax returns by sending the IRS Form 4506. You can also obtain copies of your transcripts by sending the IRS Form 4506-T.
Reconstructing Real Estate Records
You can obtain copies of deeds and mortgages from the public records of the county where the property is located. Tax records for the real estate can be obtained from the county property appraiser’s website. The property appraiser’s records will also provide the value of the land vs. the building which may be important for declaring loss of property in a disaster.
In order to deduct the damage/destruction of property as a casualty loss you will need to establish the basis of the property and its value before and after the loss. You may be able to obtain closing statements from the title company, bank or attorney involved in the closing of the property. This document will provide the initial basis of the property.
If capital improvements have been made and the records have been destroyed, you can reach out to the contractors who performed the work to obtain invoices. If the improvement required a permit, the county building office will have a record of the permits which may show the cost of the improvement. If a home improvement loan was obtained for the work, it is possible that the bank issuing the loan may have information regarding the cost of the improvements. If not, the bank will at least have the amount of the loan which may help establish the cost of the improvements.
The fair market value of the property prior to the loss can be established by having an appraiser review comparable sales of properties prior to the disaster. The property appraiser’s office may also have a list of comparable sales similar to your property and its records will also show the assessed value and estimated market value of the property.
Photographs can establish the condition of the property prior to the disaster. If you do not have any pictures, check with family, friends and neighbors to see if they have pictures of your home. If not, Google and Zillow may help as they generally have pictures of the home on their website. These will show the condition of the property prior to its damage/destruction.
Reconstructing Personal Property Records
Reconstructing records regarding automobiles may be one of the easiest to do. Resources such as Kelley Blue Book and NADA can be used to establish the value of the vehicle prior to the disaster. The dealer where the car was purchased may have the contract showing the price paid for the vehicle. This would establish the basis. If the automobile was financed, the bank which provided the loan may also have information regarding the purchase.
Establishing the purchase price of other types of personal property will be much more difficult. If property was purchased with a credit card, the credit card can provide the account statements detailing the place of purchase and cost. Whether these statements are available would depend on how long ago the items were purchased and how long the credit card company maintains account statements. If the purchase was made with a debit card, the bank statements may provide the needed information.
Photographs or videos of the inside of the home prior to the loss can help establish the existence and condition of the property. A search of websites such as Craigslist for similar items may assist in providing the value of the property prior to its loss/destruction.
Obviously, it is much more difficult to establish the existence and value of property after a loss has occurred. For this reason, it is best to be prepared.