The Internal Revenue Service is providing advice to taxpayers as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida after decimating several islands in the Caribbean, and in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.

In line with September’s National Preparedness Month, the Internal Revenue Service reminded taxpayers that it offers a special toll-free number year-round to taxpayers in federally-declared disaster areas staffed with IRS specialists trained to handle disaster-related issues. Taxpayers can call (866) 562-5227 to speak with an IRS specialist.

The IRS noted that taxpayers can also help themselves by preserving a duplicate set of important documents, such as bank statements, tax returns, identifications and insurance policies, in a safe place. The IRS advises taxpayers to store them in a waterproof container, away from the original set of documents.

The IRS said Friday it is continuing to monitor Hurricane Irma, but reminded calendar-year partnerships that the due date for filing a return after receiving an extension remains Sept. 15 following a recent change in the tax law. As Hurricane Irma approaches, the IRS said it is closely monitoring the storm and will be assessing the next steps that will be needed for areas that are declared to be federal disaster areas.

Boca Raton-based Shendell & Pollock, P.L., a law firm specializing in the defense of professional liability claims against accountants, moved items from offices into the interior of the suite, according to partner Ilana Hanau. “Management closed the building yesterday at 3 p.m.,” she said. “Employees were told to take their personal items home, and any food in the kitchen was thrown out, since power could be out for days. Our network is offsite but we expect to shut it down on Saturday in case of any surges or outages.”

The IRS noted that many financial institutions provide paperless statements and documents that can be accessed via the internet. Even if the original documents are on paper, taxpayers can scan them into an electronic format and store them on a device such as an external hard drive or USB flash drive, or burn them to a CD or DVD.

Taxpayers can ask for back copies of previously filed tax returns and attachments, including W-2 forms, by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. As an alternative, transcripts showing most line items on returns can be ordered through the Get Transcript link on IRS.gov, by calling 800-908-9946 or by using Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript, or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

The IRS also suggested taxpayers take photos and videos of the contents of their homes, particularly any high-value items value. That will make it easier to quickly claim insurance and tax benefits in case of a disaster. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584, to help taxpayers assemble a room-by-room list of their property.

Photos can help taxpayers prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Ideally, they should be entrusted to a friend or family member who lives outside the area

For businesses, the IRS advises employers who use payroll service providers to ask if the payroll service has a fiduciary bond in place. That can protect the employer in case the payroll provider defaults.

Disasters such as the recent string of hurricanes can happen unexpectedly, so taxpayers should also make sure they review their emergency plans annually. Both personal and business situations can change over time so it’s important to review preparedness needs. When employers hire new workers or an organization changes its internal functions, they should update their emergency plans and inform employees about the modifications.

For more information on National Preparedness Month, visit Ready.gov/September.

Customers wait in line at a Home Depot Inc. store ahead of Hurricane Irma in Miami.
Customers wait in line at a Home Depot Inc. store ahead of Hurricane Irma in Miami. Jayme Gershen/Bloomberg

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.
Roger Russell

Roger Russell

Roger Russell is senior editor for tax with Accounting Today, and a tax attorney and a legal and accounting journalist.