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Modern Estate Planning Blog

Elder Law & Special Needs Planning

Fair Oaks Estate Planning Attorney Discusses New Year’s Organizing

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.

The result?

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if I hadn’t laid a hand on it in a year then it was fodder for the recycle bin, especially since most of it either was out of date or I could find it again using online sources.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

  • Automobile records (for a car you no longer own)*
  • Cable bills (household)*
  • Cell phone bills (personal)*
  • Certificate of deposit (expired/matured)
  • Credit card receipts and statements (personal)*
  • Passport (expired)
  • Professional dues (that you’re not deducting)*
  • Receipts (items you didn’t deduct or get reimbursed for)
  • Service agreements (expired)
  • Social Security statements (from prior years)*
  • Telephone bills (personal)*
  • Utility bills (household)
  • Warranties (expired)
  • *If you deducted on your taxes, keep for seven years.

Toss After Three Years

  • Loans (that you’ve paid off)
  • Promissory notes (that you’ve repaid)

Toss After Seven Years

  • Accident reports and claims (related to a closed case)
  • Automobile records (for a car you donated to charity)
  • Bank account statements (back-up copies of financial documents on your computer’s hard drive)
  • Brokerage statements (for stocks or mutual funds you’ve sold)
  • Cable bills (that you’re deducting)
  • Canceled checks (for expenses you’re deducting or for legal matters)
  • Cell phone bills (that you’re deducting)
  • Certificate of deposit (that’s related to your business and has expired)
  • Capital improvement receipts (related to real estate)
  • Charitable contribution receipts
  • Child care payment receipts
  • Credit card receipts and statements (for expenses you’re deducting)
  • Dependent care payments
  • Flexible-spending account (receipts, statements)
  • Home office equipment, supplies (that you’re deducting)
  • Insurance policy (for a home you’ve sold)
  • Interest expenses (that you’re deducting)
  • Invoices (for items and services you’re deducting)
  • IRS Form 1099, 1099-G, or 1099-R
  • Lease agreements (related to rental income from real estate)
  • Mortgage interest payment receipts
  • Property records (related to property you’ve sold)
  • Professional dues (that you’re deducting)
  • Purchase documents (related to property you’ve sold)
  • Sale documents (related to property you’ve sold)
  • Stock option agreements (that you’ve exercised)
  • Tax returns (personal and business)
  • Telephone bills (that you’re deducting)
  • Title to real property (that you’ve sold)
  • Utility bills (that you’re deducting)

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

Happy organizing!

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I totally see the difference between your service and your typical legal estate planning service. The experience you mentioned where you get this big document you don’t understand and a trust that never gets funded was EXACTLY our first experience. It cost a small fortune too. Really - it is the difference between providing a legal document and providing an estate planning service.

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