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What Not to Leave Behind: Massive Piles of Paper

paperwork-315083_150Recently, a client of mine described having to go through about 30 years of their father’s financial records after he had passed away. Needless to say, that’s not an easy task, especially when you’re not entirely sure what to look for, what to keep, and what to throw away. And, here’s the real point: most of us save more paper records than we need.  One really nice legacy NOT to leave behind are massive piles of redundant, out of date financial records.

Here’s a list of what to keep and how long to keep it.  Do your children a favor — throw away the rest.

Things you should keep forever–in a safe or in your safe deposit box:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Licenses
  • Wills and Trusts
  • Adoption Papers
  • Death Certificates
  • Records of Paid Mortgages
  • Social Security Cards
  • Passports
  • Insurance Policies
  • Military discharge papers
  • Divorce Papers

Things to keep for seven years or until you sell the asset:

  • Tax returns — the IRS can audit for three years, if you file a return; in six years if they think you’ve under-reported your income; indefinitely if you didn’t file.
  • Home purchase or sale and improvement records
  • Stock certificates and other stock records
  • Loan records
  • Records that document income or deductions on your returns
  • Property deeds
  • Receipts for large items (like washer/dryers)
  • Pink Slips

Things to keep for one year:

  • Bank statements (unless you need to support a tax return)
  • Paycheck stubs (unless you plan on suing your employer)
  • Utility bills
  • Credit Card receipts
  • Bank statements
  • Investment statements