Important Document Checklist: What to Keep, Store or Shred

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September 2013

The financial services industry certainly produces a lot of paper! Here’s what you need to keep and when you can trash it.

Start by stacking all the paper in one big pile. Check your drawers (home and work), filing cabinets, folders, boxes, glove compartments, even your safe deposit box. Then separate the papers into these five groups:  

1. Originals you rarely need Store in:  Shred after: Give copies to: 
Adoption papers Bank safety deposit box  Never discard Executor, lawyer
Citizenship papers Bank safety deposit box  Never discard Executor
Divorce decree Bank safety deposit box  Never discard Lawyer
Lawsuits  Bank safety deposit box  Never discard Lawyer
Household inventory  Bank safety deposit box  Never discard Financial advisor
Photos of possessions Bank safety deposit box  Never discard Financial advisor
Military discharge  Bank safety deposit box  Never discard  
Veteran’s papers Bank safety deposit box  Never discard

  

2. Originals you sometimes need     Store in: Shred after: Give copies to:
Birth certificate Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard  
Cemetery deed Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard Heir 
Real Estate Deeds Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Ten years after property is sold  
Death certificates Locked filing cabinet  Never discard  Executor
Diplomas  Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard  
Guardianship arrangements Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard  Executor, guardian
Health records Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard Doctor
Immunization records Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard Doctor
Marriage certificates  Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard Executor
Medical directive Fire and burglar resistant safe at home New one signed Doctor, heir
Naturalization Certification Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard   
Passports Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Shred after you have replaced
Powers of attorney Fire and burglar resistant safe at home New one signed Doctor, heir
Retirement plan benefits Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard Financial advisor
Social Security card  Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Never discard  
Stock/bond certificates Fire and burglar resistant safe at home When sold
Vehicle titles Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Vehicle is sold   
Trusts  Fire and burglar resistant safe at home New one signed Executor, heir 
Wills  Fire and burglar resistant safe at home New one signed Executor, heir

 

3. Other Documents Store in:  Shred after: Give copies to: 
College financial aid  Locked filing cabinet Ten years after loan is repaid   
Credit report Fire and burglar resistant safe at home  New one arrives Financial advisor
Document inventory (this list) Fire and burglar resistant safe at home  You create a new list  Executor
Employee benefits Locked filing cabinet  Change jobs
Employment contract Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Change jobs  
Financial statements Fire and burglar resistant safe at home  New ones drafted
Insurance policies/invoices Locked filing cabinet A year after replacing policy Financial advisor
Letter of last instructions Fire and burglar resistant safe at home After writing a new one  Executor
Loan statements Locked filing cabinet Ten years after loan is repaid
Passwords  Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Change password  
Property tax assessment Locked filing cabinet New one arrives
Receipts (items under warranty) Locked filing cabinet Warranty expires  
Receipts (expensive items) Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Item sold or donated
Safe deposit box inventory Fire and burglar resistant safe at home Updated Executor 
Social Security statement Locked filing cabinet New one arrives Financial advisor
Transcripts  Locked filing cabinet You complete another course  
Vehicle registration Locked filing cabinet New one arrives  
Vehicle repairs Locked filing cabinet Vehicle is sold  
Warranties* Locked filing cabinet Dispose of item  

*Note: staple receipts to warranties

 

4. Tax Documents Store in:  Shred after: Give copies to: 
Bank statements Locked filing cabinet Seven years   
Canceled checks Locked filing cabinet  Seven years
Credit card statements Locked filing cabinet  Seven years  
Home purchase/improvement* Locked filing cabinet Seven years after home is sold
Tax return/supporting documents Locked filing cabinet Seven years after filing date   
Form 8606 Locked filing cabinet  Seven years after IRA is liquidated 

*deeds, surveys, title policies, blueprints, loan papers, receipts, etc.

 

5. Investment Documents Store in:  Shred after: Give copies to: 
Annuity contracts Locked filing cabinet  Annuity paid out  Financial advisor
Loan agreements Locked filing cabinet  Ten years after loan is repaid
Pension plan documents Locked filing cabinet  Never discard  Financial advisor
Real Estate purchase/improvements Locked filing cabinet  Seven years after property is sold
Investment account statements Locked filing cabinet Seven years after last investment held in account is sold  

 

Keeping these records safe, where you and others can find them, can save you time and greatly increases the likelihood they will not get lost.

If you need help collecting and understanding these documents, contact your financial advisor. 

Originially published in Inside Personal Finance January 2004

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