Take a pre-disaster inventory
Sunday, May 27, 2012
This post updated Friday, May 31, 2019.
Part of your hurricane season preparation should be an accurate inventory of your property.
This information is critical regardless of which destructive possibility — hurricane, tornado, blizzard, flood, earthquake, wildfire — might be prevalent in your area.
It's also good to have even for more run-of-the-mill casualty losses. Both your insurance company and Uncle Sam will appreciate the attention to detail when you file a claim.
Keeping a good record of storm-related losses is particularly important now through 2025 because of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes to casualty losses. Tax law now allows for disaster claims only in the case of major, presidentially declared catastrophes.
But even if you don't qualify for federal tax help, your inventory could help you get the most out of your insurance coverage.
Today's By the Numbers figure can help. It's 2194.
Internal Revenue Service Publication 2194 is the agency's Disaster Resource Guide for Individuals and Businesses.
The 14-page document contains information for those affected by a federally declared disaster, either as individuals or business owners, as well as contact info for assistance available to disaster victims.
IRS Publication 2194 also offers tips on reconstructing records that could be essential for tax purposes, for getting federal help to make repairs or rebuild or for insurance reimbursement. This booklet's suggestions should help if the information you need to prove your loss was damaged or destroyed in the disaster.
More help in IRS Pub. 584: Want more? Then check out IRS Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook (Personal-Use Property).
This 26-page booklet was created to help you figure your loss on personal property if you ever suffer a disaster, casualty or theft. More than half of the IRS document is work pages to help you figure the dollar loss you can claim on your taxes for qualifying damages.
But they also are a good framework for taking inventory of your home and other personal items before you ever sustain a loss.
The worksheets are broken down room by room, starting with your entryway and going through the residence before continuing to pages for vehicles and personal items, such as clothing, jewelry and the ever-popular miscellaneous.
Write down what you own: The publication isn't fillable. But you can download it and print out the pages you need.
Then you can note your property's value, either cost or other basis and its fair market value, in the tables before it was damaged or destroyed.
After the disaster, you can fill in the other columns — insurance or other reimbursement, any possible gain from the casualty event, and the item's fair market value after the disaster.
By having your property inventory ready to go before you need it, you've got a critical head start in getting reimbursed by your insurance company and/or the IRS.
Speaking of insurance, State Farm also has a handy personal property inventory brochure (it opens as a PDF). Give it a look, too. It might have items that aren't on the IRS worksheets.
If you own your own business, also check out 584's sister document, Publication 584-B, Business Casualty, Disaster, and Theft Loss Workbook. It has similar worksheets for inventorying equipment in your workplace.
Photos, too: Also take photos, both before any disaster and after you're hit.
Your digital images are dated and can be uploaded to the cloud for safekeeping, or downloaded to a thumb drive or CD for placement in a weather-proof place out of harm's way.
These images could help you substantiate any insurance or tax loss claims.
Tracking possible loss situations: My six-plus years in Florida, during which the hubby and I went through several tropical storms and two full-fledged hurricanes within three weeks of each other in 2004, also got me in the habit of tracking tropical weather systems.
Even now, living inland in Central Texas, I keep an eye on the storms that form out in the Atlantic or Caribbean waters. Many of them decide to visit the Gulf of Mexico.
The storms that make landfall along the Texas coast continue across the Lone Star State, often leaving heavy rainfall and flooding in their wakes. We got some remnants last year of Hurricane Harvey, but the Austin area definitely came out in much better shape than our friends in Houston.
So I'm still a weather geek as well as a tax geek. And I created a countdown clock to help keep track of just how many days remain in the Atlantic hurricane season, which doesn't officially begin until June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
And since I'm a weather geek as well as a tax geek, I've put a countdown clock to Nov. 30's official end of the 'cane watch in the ol' blog's right side navigation bar.
I hope you enjoy tracking the storms, but I definitely hope than none causes you any tax-deductible losses!
You might find these previous posts of interest:
- Form 4684, a disaster victim's best friend
- 5 disaster preparedness moves for businesses
- Storm Warnings: tips on preparing for and recovering from disasters
Great point, Brian. With the inventory list in your go bag, you'll have the info if, God forbid, you need it to file claims.
Posted by: Kay | Monday, May 28, 2012 at 11:19 AM
This post reminded me of the one you posted back in September during the wildfires. The advice to put together a go-bag is great and a great way to be prepared for the unexpected. Hurricanes usually give you some warning but fires, earthquakes and tornadoes don't always give you time to gather your documents.
Posted by: Brian | Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 10:39 PM