Document Retention – A Refresher

It’s now May, and you’re five months into your New Year’s resolution to get your estate in order. You’re feeling pretty good because checklist looks something like this:

Discuss estate planning options with attorney.

Execute your last will and testament, revocable trust, and other estate planning documents.

Update/change ownership on your accounts.

Update beneficiary designations.

Complete a vital information workbook, including assets/debts to assist your family in administering your estate.

File your vital information workbook and estate planning documents in a safe place where your family can find them.

Almost finished! You’re now relishing the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve provided for your family and everything is finally in order.

That is until you open your file cabinet drawer to file away your documents only to discover it’s packed tight with your records from the last twenty years. You realize that you need to add one more task to your checklist:

Organize your cabinet and purge your files of all unnecessary documents.

Sorting through all of your papers, every piece of paper seems important. “Do I still need these receipts from last year?” “What about these medical bills?” “Surely, I don’t need a copy of my 2007 tax return, do I? But what if I get audited?”

It’s easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated, so we’ve compiled the list below to help you prioritize what documents are important to hold on to and for how long you should keep them.

One Month

  • Receipts (non-deductible)
  • Deposit/ATM slips
  • Reconciled bank statements
  • Bills pending payment

Three to Four Years

  • Checkbook ledgers
  • Bank statements
  • Paycheck stubs
  • Proof of deductible purchases
  • Mortgage statements
  • Student loan interest statements
  • Real estate tax forms and records
  • Home and car insurance records
  • Mileage records
  • Health benefits/insurance records
  • Proof of charitable contributions/donations
  • Proof of deductible purchases
  • All business and income related documents

At Least Seven Years

  • Federal and state income tax returns
  • W-2s and 1099s
  • Social Security statements
  • All receipts used as tax deductions
  • Medical bills/statements, if deducted
  • Contracts (or life of contract, if longer)
  • Investment records (after disposition)

Forever

  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security card
  • Citizenship records
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce decrees
  • Military service records
  • Passports (until expiration)
  • Education records
  • Life insurance policies
  • Pension/retirement plan records
  • Will and/or trust
  • Durable Powers of Attorney
  • Living Will/Medical Power of Attorney
  • Medical records
  • Car titles (until disposition)
  • Deeds
  • Mortgages and notes held
  • Home inventory (update as necessary)
  • Capital improvement receipts (for taxes and insurance)
  • Receipts from major purchases (for taxes and insurance)