Tax Basics


Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse & Other Disaster Recovery Tips

October 10, 2015 : Kristin Shaw

Editor’s Note: In case of a zombie attack, or a natural disaster, you want to be prepared. Here are some disaster recovery tips including protecting important tax and financial documents.

Zombies are popping up everywhere. They tend to do that, right?

The Walking Dead makes its return on Sunday. Halloween costume shops, with requisite zombies, are filling vacant retail space. And the state of Kansas has declared October “Zombie Preparedness Month.” Seriously.

OK, it’s meant in jest. Much like the CDC has done with its zombie campaign, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback made the declaration in order to bring more attention to general disaster preparedness. Whether it’s a flood, fire, hurricane, tornado or something else, natural disasters often cause upheaval, uncertainty and financial loss – if not worse. Since it’s nearly impossible to avoid them, the best thing is to be prepared.

Many families have worked to prepare by gathering supplies – water, food, batteries, flashlights. But a large part of recovering from a disaster hinges on good financial records. Which means you need a system to store and protect those records. Here are a few tips.

1 – Store financial documents at the same time you collect other supplies.

If you update your kit annually, use that time to set aside the latest version of your tax and financial records, too.

FEMA’s emergency financial first aid kit is a great resource for documenting important information. It also has a checklist of things to collect that will help you prove your identity, your residence and the value of your property.

Here are some of the items included on that checklist that should go into storage:

  • Drivers license
  • Other photo ID
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage license
  • Social Security cards
  • Passports
  • Lease, rental agreement or mortgage, real estate deeds of trust
  • Second mortgage or private mortgage insurance
  • Home equity line of credit
  • Utility bills
  • Loan payments for vehicles
  • Credit card information
  • Student loans
  • Alimony payments
  • Child support payments
  • Bank statements
  • Retirement accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • Vehicle registration/ownership papers
  • Homeowners or renters insurance policy
  • Photos of the home and its contents
  • Auto insurance policy
  • Life insurance policy
  • Any appraisals of property
  • Government benefit statements
  • Previous years’ tax returns
  • Property tax statement
  • Personal property tax
  • Will or trust
  • Power of attorney
  • Medical records

2 – Establish a safe place to store the records.

Putting them some place where they are protected from the elements is key.

Option 1: A fireproof, waterproof location at home may be an easy way to store them. You could set aside physical copies of the documents, or save them to an electronic storage device, like a USB drive, that is then placed into safe storage.

Option 2: Use cloud storage online to store copies of your documents. Remember to follow security best practices by using a secure site and creating a unique password. These are sensitive documents that you don’t want compromised. The benefit of cloud storage is that you never have to track any items. However, you will need an Internet connection to access the documents, which could be hard to get immediately following a disaster.

Option 3: Use a bank safe deposit box to store the documents. There are two downsides here. One is that the natural disaster could make it difficult for you to reach a physical location. Additionally, make sure you understand the account access rules if the account holder were to die in the disaster (or turn into a zombie, in this scenario).

Why is it important to keep these records in the event of a disaster?

You may need to reconstruct your financial records in order to obtain:

  1. Insurance reimbursement
  2. Federal assistance
  3. Tax benefits related to property losses

How the IRS can help with disaster recovery.

The IRS extends special privileges to taxpayers living in federally declared disaster areas.

IRS disaster relief, in the form of extended tax deadlines, is generally offered to taxpayers who qualify for individual assistance.

Additionally, the IRS will often waive the usual fees and expedite requests for copies of tax returns for people who need them to apply for benefits or to file amended returns claiming disaster-related losses.

Taxpayers may also be able to defer taxes on any gain from insurance proceeds by replacing damaged property with a like item.

Full guidance from the IRS can be found here.

While we’re still wrapping our heads around the idea of a real zombie apocalypse, H&R Block is a proud supporter of the American Red Cross Disaster Responder Program. Furthermore, H&R Block clients with a MyBlock account have access to a digital copy of their past tax return, and our offices are open year-round to help file an amended return or navigate the tax complexities that may arise after a disaster.

While you may fear the worst, it’s best to be prepared. Hopefully you learned some tips on disaster recovery — whether a zombie apocalypse or natural disaster. 

Kristin Shaw

Kristin Shaw

H&R Block

Kristin was previously the editor of Block Talk, the official H&R Block blog. Prior to joining H&R Block, Kristin worked in marketing for higher education institutions and actually taught some college classes too.

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