- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

What would you do if all your financial records suddenly disappeared? That’s what happened to thousands of families when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast two weeks ago. Some of the more fortunate ones might have had backup documents stashed with relatives or friends outside the area. Or their safe deposits boxes might have survived — even if they can’t get to them.

But many families will have to reconstruct their financial lives. Specialists say the first step is to stabilize the family’s living situation and then seek the help of the government, employers, banks, relatives and friends in putting the finances back in order.

Anat Kendal, director of financial planning for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), with headquarters in New York, said many families quickly discover they need cash for day-to-day living.

“Contact your insurance company right away, make them aware you’ve had damage to your property, make them aware of the severity of that damage,” she said. “If you can’t stay in the house, make them aware you’re going to be staying somewhere else and that you’re going to need some cash or their coverage for temporary living expenses.”

A second possible source of money is the company where you work, Miss Kendal said.

“Contact your employer and see if you can get an advance on your paycheck,” she said. Although many Gulf Coast businesses are damaged and shuttered, some might have headquarters elsewhere that can help, she pointed out.

Families also can take advantage of debit and credit cards to cover temporary living expenses, and many banks and savings banks are waiving automated-teller-machine fees and cash-advance fees as well as extending emergency lines of credit to customers who call.

Miss Kendal also suggested that families get to the disaster recovery centers set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross, which can provide funds to cover living expenses.

The AICPA has more suggestions in its publication “Disaster Recovery — A Guide to Financial Issues” on its Web site at www.aicpa.org.

Another step some families might want to take quickly is to recreate an inventory of their home furnishings and possessions so they can file insurance claims.

Connie Bracher, head of the disaster committee of the California Society of Enrolled Agents, suggests that families tackle this together. Enrolled agents are licensed by the Internal Revenue Service to deal with tax issues.

“Try to mentally reconstruct your house,” she said. “Draw a little map, then try to think about every single wall. What picture was on the wall? What chest of drawers? What was in those drawers?”

Families can estimate replacement values for things by going through catalogs or checking Web shopping sites, she said. Publications such as Kelley Blue Book and its Web site, www.kbb.com, list prices for new and used cars.

If the family has photos of the home and its contents, that will be helpful, Miss Bracher added. “If your photos are lost, go back to relatives and friends and ask if they have pictures of parties in your house, anything that would show it before the storm,” she said.

When it comes to reconstructing other records, families should try to reach the financial institutions that produced them, Miss Bracher said. She said these could include:

• The escrow company involved in the purchase of your home, which should have copies of closing documents.

• Building contractors, who can provide copies of bills for major improvements or an affidavit of the work done and the cost.

• Banks, brokerages and credit card companies, which can make copies of previous bills and statements.

Miss Bracher said the IRS also can be a good source of historical financial information.

Taxpayers can file IRS Form 4506 requesting copies of previous tax returns, she said. The IRS has announced that families that write “Hurricane Katrina” in red across the top of the form will not be charged for the service. The IRS has a special hot line, 866-562-5227, to deal with disaster victims.

ASSOCIATED PRESS


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