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Linkenheimer has been an active part of our Sonoma County community for over 85 years. And like most of you, we have all been profoundly affected by these horrific fires that have swept through our community and continue to affect those that live here. We have lost houses and entire neighborhoods, friends and families have been displaced and like many of you, we are still reeling from the ongoing damage the fires have created. We want to express our utmost condolences to all of our friends, families and clients who have lost something in this disaster. And we want you to know, we will be working side by side with you all during this difficult time to rebuild our community. With power, utilities and cell phone coverage being scarce, we want to try and provide as much information as we can in one post, so that it can be shared effectively with those desperately in need of information and reassurance.

As some of you know, the October 15th tax deadline is near. We have spoken with the IRS regarding extension relief for our clients. Due to our office being located in a disaster area we will be getting some additional time from the IRS to file – not sure yet as to the length, but we’d anticipate another month.  As of now, FEMA has declared the fires as disaster areas, but the IRS will likely not have them declared as Federal tax disaster areas for a week or so.  Apparently it can take awhile (Hurricane Nate has still not been updated in their system either, which happened last week), but given that FEMA has made the declaration they stated it is only a matter of time for them to follow suit with the allowance.  This will allow us to file late without any additional interest and penalties. All clients who have a zip code in one of the disaster areas will be given the automatic extension and will be exempt from penalties and interest (once it is acknowledged by the IRS).  Tax preparers located in a disaster area can request extension and exemption from interest and penalties for their clients in bulk.  We will do this for all of our clients who have not yet filed by 10/16.

We would still like to get the final information for your return as soon as possible but at this point, we are more concerned for client and staff safety and well being at this time.

We hope and pray your families are safe in the midst of these horrific fires and know we are here to help in anyway possible.

Below is some information from the IRS, which hasn’t been updated to include the Northern California fires specifically, but the information is still pertinent. 

IRS FAQ for Disaster Victims

IRS Tax Relief in Disaster Situations

Below is some additional information we have put together which we hope you will find useful:

It is ESSENTIAL that you register with Red Cross; whether you stay at the shelter or not they should register you as evacuated.

With presidential declaration of a disaster, it is ESSENTIAL that you file a claim with FEMA, renter or home owner, and individuals in most cases works if you are renter. Regardless of renter or home owner, BE PRESENT WHEN FEMA INSPECTS THE PROPERTY which will happen very quickly.

Unemployment may open claim for you if you lost work due to fire; check the box that says displaced due to disaster (last question). FEMA has temporary shelter allowance, which applies to right now, AND rental assistance, which applies to 18 months from declaration; they are different. You should not have to pay for temp shelter if FEMA assigns a hotel, but you will have to apply for FEMA assistance first. PUC controls utilities, which should not require you to pay during non-service times. You may be prevented from returning to your property because of toxic waste from burned materials; your county should have two options for clean up.

KEEP ALL DOCUMENTATION and label it and file it as you get it. Your assessors’ office should have a calamity claim which will reduce your property taxes. PRESCRIPTIONS ARE REPLACED FREE BY YOUR PHARMACY BY LAW in declared disasters. FEMA WILL PAY for lost medical equipment, but your doctor may be able to replace it quicker with a new prescription for which FEMA should reimburse.

ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTS should be replaced for free. State of California can help you with birth certificates in AND outside of California.  There is so much to know.

The following information was provided by our own Andy Vedder, who lost his house to a fire in Ukiah earlier this year. Hopefully this information will be helpful to those affected.

Overall, I think the correct philosophy is you are building a team to handle the situation, not trying to do it all by yourself.  There will be ups and downs and having people to get you through the rough times is crucial.  My recommendations would be as follows.

  • Get a lawyer to assist you.  They don’t need to do everything, but should be there for advisement no matter how rational you feel right now.
  • Start a very detailed list of personal property.  It will take a while, but list it room by room.  When you submit the list reserve the right to submit additional items.  Know that the insurance company will pay fair market value initially (low amount), but as you replace items and keep the receipts they will pay replacement value (higher amount).
  • If your insurance broker can’t supply someone to articulate the coverages, contract with an insurance specialist to assist you.  The coverages read like IRS code and the insurance company is not always inclined to interpret them in your favor.  Our policy limit expanded the more we examined the coverages and educated ourselves.
  • I would be cautious in taking money from the insurance company initially if not necessary.  In the same vein, I would not recommend replacing anything too soon.  I am not recommending anyone go without essentials, but merely that there is a recognition you will be replacing items for a long time and having some flexibility in the future is valuable.
  • My insurance company contracted with a relocation company that found a rental, provided rented furniture, appliances, etc.  They were very professional and fast.  I think that will be much harder under current situations, but you should be provided an equivalent rental location, furniture, etc. under most coverages.
  • When searching for a contractor look for someone that is willing to advocate for you with the insurance company.  There will be a lot of aspects to rebuilding with insurance funds that are different than with private funds and both parties should understand that going in.