How long should I keep that?

Many people, like myself, have decorated a spare bedroom with boxes of old medical insurance reimbursement statements and tax returns. While interesting to grandchildren that you only earned $6,000 annually decades ago with both spouses employed and being able to tell them when their mom had her tonsils out, now is the time to do a little housecleaning and “cross-shred” those documents you really don’t need.

Records fall into four categories (1) personal, (2) ownership or financial, (3) tax, and (4) medical. Keep the following:

Personal :

• All original or certified copies of marriage licenses, divorce decrees and property settlements, pre-nuptial agreements, adoption decrees, birth and death certificates, indefinitely.

• College transcripts and diplomas, indefinitely.

• Military discharge records/DD214s, indefinitely.

• Child custody/support orders until the kids are grown.

• Work reviews and memos on job performance for 15 years.

• Current estate documents. Wills and any codicils or personal property memorandum, trusts, and powers of attorneys, indefinitely or until revoked. (can keep in a safe deposit box at a bank)

• Contracts for pre-need funerals and deeds for cemetery plots

• Pension plan and retirement-plan documents.

• Current passports – Valid for 10 years from date of issue.

• Credit report or FICO score for three years.

General purchase and sale:

• Cancelled checks or bank statements for one year, unless tax related or provide proof of home improvements (not repairs) that increases the basis in your home.

• Utility bills for one year.

• Only current house and car insurance policies.

• Title to cars, RV, boats, and mobile homes until you sell the vehicle.

• Warranties until they expire.

• Receipts for major purchases and repairs, until the item is replaced.

• Documentation of credit card purchases and payments for three years.

• Loan and rental agreements until the loan is satisfied of record or six months after you move and your security deposit is refunded.

• Promissory notes until satisfied.

• Art and jewelry purchase records and appraisals, indefinitely if valuable.

• Most deeds and mortgages, and plats are public record and you can get a certified copy at the courthouse for a small cost. Nevertheless keep the deeds and plats to all lands you currently own and any mortgages you still are paying on.

• Appraisals for home equity lines of credit, while the equity line is open.

• Home inventory, update every five years for insurance purposes.

• Termite contracts.

Tax records:

• Tax returns and supporting documents for three years, that’s how long the IRS has to initiate an audit. If you are self-employed, had capital gains or losses or own your own business, you need to keep supporting documentation and tax returns for seven years.

• Property tax statements for one year unless you itemized deductions, then keep with your other tax records.

• Investment records on the purchase of stocks and mutual funds until you sell them, then with your other tax records.

• IRA account information, especially withdrawals for one year, then keep with tax records.


• Disability award letters , indefinitely

• Workers compensation settlement letters/orders until you draw old age SS benefits or are approved for SS disability and the settlement is requested

• SS annual statements for one year

• Health-insurance plan description and policy for one year after it ends.

• Long-term disability policies

• Health care power of attorney, living will, do not resuscitate order, indefinitely.

• Medical records that relate to surgeries and inpatient treatments and significant medications (this can easily be entered into a more permanent and compact record on CD by scanning onto a CD or external hard drive).


Disclaimer:  Information contained in this column is meant to be of general information on frequently asked questions concerning disability, elder law, estate planning and probate law, and does not contain specific legal advice to a client.  No attorney-client relationship is created by reading this column.

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