Tips for Disaster Survivors

Although we're not tax professionals we know that doing your income taxes following a disaster can be tricky. We've found a great guide by a CPA who specializes in taxes following a disaster. The booklet is called "Tax Consequences Following A Disaster" and was written by John Trapani.

You can get the booklet HERE.

Although John is no longer an active member of CARe, he helped found CARe after he dealt with the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.

A large loss is a complicated process and income taxes are a big part of that. Make sure you go to an expert who has dealt with this topic time and time again.

I had a survivor ask a question recently regarding staying with a relative and getting reimbursement via your Loss of Use aka Additional Living Expenses (ALE) coverage.

Let's say you have a covered loss and for the first week (or month etc), instead of staying in a hotel you stay with a friend or relative until you're able to find appropriate living arrangements. You can claim a reasonable charge for your stay there and reimburse your family member for their generosity. The key is REASONABLE. Only you know the cost of a hotel in your area and how it compares to the quarters in which you're staying, but if you still have no idea you can contact a local hotel and ask how much they charge. Don't forget to include meals paid for by your host.

The next question this survivor had was how to make this claim. My advice was to find a blank invoice online somewhere and use the form to claim a daily/weekly rate. They included a separate line item for meals provided during their stay.

Here is a list of things you might be able to also claim under ALE. See also Chapter 7 of our book A Survivor's Guide to Insurance:

  • Hotel expenses: tips, dining out, parking.
  • “Moral” obligation to pay for housing with friends or relatives (according to AICPCU). Have your friend or relative write a rental receipt and allow them to be compensated for the inconvenience.
  • Additional driving mileage (see current IRS or AAA mileage rates).
  • Childcare expenses above normal expenses.
  • House cleaning service above normal expenses.
  • Cost to install and hookup fees for cable and utilities.
  • Cost to install phone and forward number to temporary addresses.
  • Cell phone, telephone, postage costs above normal expenses.
  • Utility bills to temporary power poles might be charged at a higher rate than normal residential rates. The difference between your old bill and the new bill.
  • Extra supplies related to living in an RV such as toilet chemicals and difference between the price of regular toilet paper and the special toilet paper you might need to use in an RV.
  • Long distance phone calls to insurance company.
  • Pet boarding.
  • Meals while in hotel or moving above normal expenses.
  • Laundry and dry cleaning above normal expenses.
  • Costs related to documentation of dwelling, personal property losses.
  • Files, paper, notebook and diary costs related to insurance claim. (These are not personal property replacements but directly related to additional expenses due to the loss.)
  • Expenses related to replacement of licenses, diplomas, certificates, passports.
  • Storage of replacement contents.

As you may know, this last month fires tore through San Diego County with a vengeance leaving hundreds of people in a similar situation as you might have experienced. CARe will be hosting an upcoming recovery meeting and would love to hear what kinds of tips you would share with these new survivors. If you got this via email, just reply to the email. If you're reading this online, submit your tip on the Contact Us page.

If you know anyone that was personally effected by the fires, please forward our information to them and we can connect them to the support community that is starting to rally behind these survivors.

Thank you!

[UPDATE - Tip 1] - I got a reply from a 2007 total loss survivor saying they were told early in the claim that they actually had to replace personal property items to get paid for them so they started replacing items as they thought of them even if they weren't immediately needed. But once they turned in an extensive inventory to the insurance company they were paid a lump sum amount with no further documentation. 

The lesson I take away from this is to BE PATIENT and do an inventory. Replace items as they are needed. Of course you should always save the receipts for things you replace as it is the prerogative of the insurance company to ask for documentation (and you may need it if you don't run up against your limits and need to recapture depreciation), but before you start replacing items that aren't immediately needed, start turning partial lists of your inventory in to the insurance company and see payments are treated. What you're told initially isn't always how it ends up.

[UPDATE - Tip 2] - Another 2007 total loss survivor had another great little list of things to keep in mind. "Be patient! Do not let the insurance company rush you into a settlement. Even the "best" insurance companies will try to reduce their payouts. Document every call, email, letter and correspondence between you and the insurance company. Remember, the insurance companies are in business to make money. They are NOT your friend."

Inspirational Quotes

You can't run away from trouble. There ain't no place that far.


We lost our home in the 2007 Witch Creek Fire in Poway CA. As was the case with most (if not all) of my neighbors, we were drastically under insured through no fault of our own. I don’t believe that anyone is prepared for such a catastrophic emotional and financial loss. The task of completely rebuilding your life is monumental. Fortunately, the city of Poway co-operated with CARe and allowed them to hold bi-weekly insurance meetings in the City Chambers. After attending 2 of the group meetings we then scheduled several one-on-one meetings with CARe and were able to start to piece together the puzzle that is a catastrophic insurance claim. The resources which CARe was able to put us in touch with were incredible, and after they showed us the basics of handling an insurance claim we felt that we had knowledge to work through the once daunting task of negotiating with our insurance company. We could not have made it through the process without the information, help and encouragement that we received from CARe

Witch Creek Fire Survivor, 2007