January 7, 2011
I admit it, I have a paper problem.
As a Fair Oaks estate planning attorney, I feel like I am continually buried in the stuff and powerless to let go. But all that is changing. I spent a fair number of hours over the Christmas holiday (now you know what I do on vacation) digging out and tossing paper both at home and at my office.
I can see my desks again and I got rid of a lot of junk, and now I know where to find stuff. For my office I figured if I hadn’t laid a hand on it in a year then it was fodder for the recycle bin, especially since most of it either was out of date or I could find it again using online sources.
So how do you decide what to keep and what to toss? And how long should you keep the stuff you keep? A good rule of thumb is to only keep the stuff that is related to anything you deducted when you filed a tax return. Save every tax-related document for at least seven years after you file the return, which is the length of time that the IRS has to determine that you owe additional taxes, provided you filed a return. And if you didn’t file a return or filed a fraudulent one, the IRS can knock on your door anytime.
As for bills, statements and receipts for items and services that you aren’t deducting — it’s your call. Just remember — shredding is the best way to dispose of papers with your account or Social Security number on them.
Here are some helpful guidelines to keeping your home, or at least the paper in your life, a little more organized.
Toss After One Year
Toss After Three Years
Toss After Seven Years
Keep deeds to real property for as long as you own the property and 7 years after it’s sold. Ditto for stock certificates and brokerage statements.
Of course, you should keep the most recent version of legal documents, such as a will or trust, forever.
What about your closets and keepsakes? That one is up to you, but if you have any good tricks on how to let go I’d love to hear from you—just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org