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What Documents to Keep, Store or Trash

Some documents are more important than others


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 the five groups listed below.

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

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

1. Originals you rarely need Store in Shred after Give copies to
Adoption papers Bank safe-deposit box Never discard Executor, lawyer
Citizenship papers Bank safe-deposit box Never discard Executor
Divorce decree Bank safe-deposit box Never discard Lawyer
Lawsuits Bank safe-deposit box Never discard Lawyer
Household inventory Bank safe-deposit box Never discard Financial adviser
Photos of possessions Bank safe-deposit box Never discard Financial adviser
Military discharge Bank safe-deposit box Never discard  
Veteran's papers Bank safe-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 10 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 adviser
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 adviser
Documentary inventory (this list) Fire- and burglar-resistant safe at home You create a new list Executor
Employee benefits Locked filing cabinet Change jobs  
Employee 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 adviser
Letter of last instructions Fire- and burglar-resistant safe at home 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 assessments 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 adviser
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-staple receipts to warranties Locked filing cabinet Dispose of item  
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  
5. Investment documents Store in Shred after Give copies to
Annuity contracts Locked filing cabinet Annuity paid out Financial adviser
Loan agreements Locked filing cabinet Ten years after loan is repaid  
Pension plan documents Locked filing cabinet Never discard Financial adviser
Real estate purchase/improvement 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  

This article is excerpted from Ric Edelman’s Inside Personal Finance. Ric's firm has won more than 75 financial, business, community and philanthropic awards, and currently manages $7 billion for more than 16,000 clients nationwide. For more about personal finance, visit Ric online at RicEdelman.com. The ideas expressed in this article are solely the opinion of the author, and do not express or imply endorsement of any individual, organization or product.

Ric Edelman
By Ric Edelman
Ric Edel­man has been pro­vid­ing finan­cial advice to con­sumers for 25 years. His radio show, The Truth About Money, airs in 50 major radio mar­kets around the coun­try, includ­ing New York City, Los Ange­les, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Bal­ti­more, Miami, San Fran­cisco and Wash­ing­ton D.C. He is also a sought-after-speaker, TV per­son­al­ity and best-selling author of seven books — includ­ing the newly updated and expanded fourth edi­tion of his per­sonal finance clas­sic, The Truth About Money.

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