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At this time of year when tax returns are on our minds, it's good to review when to discard certain documents and what to retain for what length of time.

  • Tax returns and related documents - seven years.
  • Bank deposit slips - shred after you reconcile your statements.
  • Banking statements - after a calendar year, store with tax returns if any will be used to prove deductions.
  • Employer defined benefit plan communication - retain indefinitely.
  • Investment statements [401(k), IRA, Keogh] - shred only monthly and quarterly statements when you receive a new one; save annual statements until you see the investments.
  • Investment purchase confirmations and 1099s - hold until you sell the securities, then keep with your tax records for an additional seven years.
  • Life insurance policies - if in force, keep forever; store in your safe deposit box.
  • Safe deposit box inventory - keep indefinitely, but review and update annually.
  • Social Security statements - shred the old statement when you receive a new one.

Additional basic to dos:

  • Keep your wills updated - and do not store in a safe deposit box - store in a fireproof home safe or lock box. Consider drawing up other estate planning document as needed, including durable powers of attorney for medical and financial affairs as well as advance directives and living wills.
  • Create an information book - where everything is - as a resource to help family members should you become incapacitated.
  • Create and update your contact list of friends, family and professionals who would need to be contacted in an emergency or notified upon your death.
  • Create a home inventory to use in the event of a major loss - photographic documentation helps your memory and helps with the claims process. Keep a copy at home and off-site.
  • Review/update your beneficiary designations.
  • Do not keep your original stock or bond certificates in your home or safe deposit box. Instead, use your investment advisor or a financial custodian (Fidelity, Schwab, TD Ameritrade, etc.).
  • Hold adequate liquid assets and consider using POD (payable on death) designations for bank accounts and TOD (transfer on death) for brokerage accounts.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should help you to get started or keep you on track. One last thought: consider creating your family history. This may be the single most valuable thing that you pass on to your children. You might write in your own hand, type it on a computer or record it. If you have an interest, there are websites available that offer helpful advise.