Tuesday, February 3, 2015



Many articles in the popular and professional media summarizing the basics of the income tax implications of a casualty loss no more informative than IRS Publication 547, “Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts”.

The basic concepts for claiming a casualty loss are not very difficult. However, the cliché, “the devil is in the details,” is true. The ways that the execution of compliance can result in major errors are vast, and potentially expensive, causing disastrous unnecessary tax liabilities, or tax audit costs. These are not often addressed. It appears to be an “orphan” area of the public tax law literature. Most CPAs have more clients with Sec. §1031 transactions than casualty losses beyond an auto collision. John Trapani, CPA, has written extensively on many of these potential problem areas on a blog: “www.AccounantForDisasterRecovery.com.”
Beyond the basics…
How can a taxpayer magnify the resulting financial disaster by making mistakes not attending to the basics and ignoring details? The amounts in these situations are often the largest numbers that taxpayers will ever report on their tax returns. Both the taxpayer and tax professional should attend to the basics and details. It is understandable that the taxpayer wants to move on and get the home back in livable condition; that is where the tax professional must provide guidance to tie down the details protecting the clients in the event of a possible IRS attack.
This article introduces a series discussing a areas where taxpayers need to spend attention to avoid costly erroneous results and audit risks.
The Form 4684 may seem difficult to taxpayers, most CPAs look at the form through their tax prep software and see only four items for each loss category of assets damaged or destroyed. The first reality is that the problems start in the Code and Regulations. There are vague phrases and definitions that are simply passed over. The first step to success is understanding the relevant details of the Code and Regulations.
Here is a list of areas where taxpayers unknowingly and commonly make costly errors.
1.                        Documentation
o        Cost basis of major assets lost or damaged
o        Proper segregation of insurance proceeds
o        Valuation mistakes
2.                        Making elections to defer gain or not to report gain
3.                        Insurance coverage claims in-process
4.                        Decision to report a loss
5.                        Timing, when to deduct a loss
6.                        Replacement qualification and reporting errors
7.                        Changes in circumstances and changes of mid
8.                        Exclusion for “unscheduled” personal property proceeds in federal declared disasters
9.                        Differentiating between scheduled and unscheduled personal property
10.                     “Common Pool” of funds for personal use real property insurance proceeds
11.                     “integral nature” concept for “Personal Use Real Estate”
12.                      “Single Identifiable Property” for non-personal use real estate
13.                     Segregation of damaged and undamaged property
14.                     Responsibility to timely file tax returns during recovery period

But there are more…
Over the next weeks these issues will be examined. In this forum, due to the intricacies of the format, not all of the problem areas can be addressed.
Before we can look at these areas, there are several issues that affect the overall understanding of the casualty / involuntary conversion area that need to be covered first.

To start, the problem is the vague phrases in the Code. At first blush, they seem reasonable, but then as you look deeper, it is apparent that there are pitfalls. In the case of the casualty / involuntary conversion Code sections, there are several large vagaries that we have to live with. It is important to recognize that the Code sections that we depend on to ease the financial blow of a disaster are in place because of the recognition by Congress for the need to provide such relief, recognition that goes back to at least 1867. We have to acknowledge that these Code sections are there due to “Legislative Grace.” These sections include some historic language that create interpretation problems in practice. To start, even the IRS acknowledged that §165(c)(3) has a very vague phrase that shows up in the post 16th Amendment code: “Fire, Storm, Shipwreck or Other Casualty.” IRS Rev. Rul. 72-592 notes the historic lack of interest on the part of Congress to clarify the term “other casualty:” No change in the last 43 years.
The provision allowing this deduction for losses from “other casualty” has been part of the Federal tax law since the enactment of the Revenue Act of 1916. However, there is neither statutory definition of the term “other casualty,” nor legislative history expressing Congressional intent as to its meaning.
The courts and IRS continue to grapple with the concept.
But, in a more modern addition §165(h)(3)(C) notes that a federally declared disaster is always subject to the casualty loss Code sections. This removes the question of whether an “other casualty” must be resolved for the many federally declared disasters.
On one hand, if an event has been declared a Federal Disaster, it is clear that the event qualifies as a casualty. But an event that is not declared a Federal Disaster opens up the potential of an IRS challenge at the very root of the tax loss claim: that the loss is not a casualty. In some cases the IRS is correct as determined by the courts, and in others taxpayers havelost due to weak documentation or weak circumstances. Since specific audit results are not become published we do not know how many loss claims are torn apart in an audit without further legal pursuit by the taxpayers in the public area of a court airing. And yes, there are cases exposed in published tax court opinions that seem to have been a waste of time on the part of the taxpayers. The term “Other casualty remains contentious; one that will likely never be resolved.

Articles are currently available on the details of the several concepts where taxpayers can add to their disaster situation. Here are five topics that should be considered by every taxpayer who is recovering from a catastrophic loss:
a.              No insurance
b.              Under insured
c.              Adequate insurance
2.                 IRS Audits
5.                 SOME MAJOR VAGUE PHRASES
6.                 “VALUING” A LOSS

These topics are discussed in articles that follow (by posting date) this post on the blog.

JOHN TRAPANI assists both taxpayers directly and advises taxpayers’ tax professionals.
This material was contributed by John Trapani. A Certified Public Accountant who has assisted taxpayers since 1976, in analyzing and reporting transactions of the type covered in this material.  

© 2015, John Trapani, CPA,
All rights to reproduce or quote any part of the chapter in any other publication are reserved by the author.


Certified Public Accountant

2975 E. Hillcrest Drive, #403

Thousand Oaks, CA 91362

(805) 497-4411       E-mail John@TrapaniCPA.com

Blog: www.AccountantForDisasteRrecovery.com

It All Adds Up For You

Tax Advice Disclaimer
Any implication of accounting, business or tax advice contained in this material is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis related to your specific issues. It is not a substitute for a formal opinion including a discussion or your specific situation. It is not sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. If desired, John Trapani, CPA would be pleased to perform the requisite research, specific to your facts and circumstances and provide you with a detailed written analysis. Such an engagement would be the subject of a separate engagement letter letter that would define the scope and limits of the desired consultation services.
This material was completed on the date of the posting

A 450+ page text book is available for purchase:
DISASTER RECOVERY, Tax Benefits and Reporting Responsibilities
The book covers the tax reporting process from incident to resolution in disaster situations including descriptions of  how taxpayers can run into trouble.

An APPRAISER'S GUIDE (100 pages) is also available for purchase  to assist in evaluating appraisal reports and guiding appraisers in the tax law requirements to be addressed in an appraisal.

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