Which Documents Do You Need to Retain?

Senior Law Attorneys NYIn today’s day and age of online transactions, it can be difficult to wonder if we still need paper statements or documents at all. Of course, we all still have paper records, but how long should we hold on to them? Can we shred some and purchase a smaller filing system? Will retaining certain paper documents help if we become ill, injured, or suddenly pass away?

The following are some brief guidelines for retaining important paperwork, though you should discuss your specific situation with a trusted attorney.

Documents to Always Keep

There are some documents that you should never consider throwing away. Moreover, you should keep these in a safe and secure place where you can always access them, such as a locked fire proof box or file cabinet. Such documents include:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Marriage license
  • Divorce decree
  • Discharge papers from the military
  • Tax returns
  • Retirement account documents
  • Inventory of your safe deposit box
  • Death certificates of close family members
  • Burial plots and deeds
  • Estate planning documents, such as powers of attorney, wills, trusts, and advanced directives

The above should be accessible should you need them, and your attorney and the named executor of your estate or successor trustee should also have copies of your relevant estate planning documents or should know how to access them if you should die or become disabled.

How Long to Keep Other Documents

There are many other types of paperwork that you might want to keep on file for a period of time, and then should discard in a safe manner, such as shredding. The following are some suggestions regarding how long to keep certain documents on hand: (Because of special circumstances you may need to keep some records longer)

  • Utility bills – Until you pay them unless you can deduct your utilities from your taxes
  • Pay stubs – If you are planning to apply for credit, keep at least three months’ worth
  • Insurance policies – For as long as you have the policy
  • Warranties and manuals – For as long as you own the vehicle or appliance
  • Auto loans and vehicle titles – For as long as you own the vehicle
  • Deeds and mortgage – Keep them until you sell the home and then, for another six years after the sale. Make sure you have a copy of the discharge of any mortgage or line of credit and that the original discharge was filed with the county clerk when the obligation was discharged
  • Medical records – Keep treatment records for at least five years, though you always want to have records with the contact information of your physician and pertinent health information and history, including medications and allergies. You may want to keep for a longer period in case you need to prove the onset of a disability.
  • Bank statements – Keep them for at least seven years if you have business expenses, large purchases, mortgage payments, tax information, or may need to apply for Medicaid
  • Investment account statements – Keep them for at least three years or up to seven, as they have important tax information
  • Any supporting tax documents – The IRS recommends keeping most documents for three years from the date of your return, or for seven years if the documents relate to certain tax deductions and losses. You should also keep home purchase and home improvement receipts until property is sold in order to establish a higher cost basis.

Discuss Your Situation With Our New York City Elder Law Attorneys

At Goldfarb Abrandt & Salzman LLP, we provide legal advice to our clients on a wide range of matters to ensure they have sufficiently planned for the future. Call (212) 387-8400 or contact us online to discuss your estate planning questions today.