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Do I Really Need to Keep These Documents Forever?

| November 06, 2018
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In our increasingly digital world, everything has moved online.  While reducing paper waste is good for our environment and gives us more usable desk space, it can pose some security risks.  You want to use a service that’s safe and utilizes the strongest encryption methods and protocols to thwart any unauthorized attempts at access, like Raymond James Vault. 


With so many documents being mailed to us, it can be difficult to determine what is truly worth saving (and for how long) and what can be discarded or shredded.


In case of an emergency, access to personal and legal documents are incredibly important.  Should something happen, having these necessary documents available in a timely manner can be extremely helpful to you and others who may need access to them.  Personal and estate planning documents are the most common types of documents to keep forever due to the need of possessing original copies.




Documents like your social security card and birth certificate cannot be replaced with virtual forms.  They legally prove who you are and help prove that you’re a legal citizen.  It’s fairly common when applying for a driver’s license, getting married or applying for a job to need them.


This is why many personal documents need to kept forever, and in a safe place that is easily accessible.  It’s important to keep these records together and to make sure you’ve put them back as soon as you’re done with them.  Losing these sensitive documents can actually be detrimental to your safety, privacy, and increase the risk of identity theft.  Trying to replace them can be terribly inconvenient and costly.


Retention guidelines for your personal documents:


  • Birth Certificates - Keep forever
  • Adoption papers - Keep forever
  • Social Security Card - Keep forever
  • Custody agreements - Keep forever
  • Divorce documents - Keep forever
  • Marriage Certificate - Keep forever
  • Passports - Keep forever
  • Military Discharge papers - Keep forever
  • Records of any governmental employment (e.g., armed forces) - Keep forever
  • Legal Records - Keep forever
  • Contracts - Keep for seven years after expiration
  • Receipts - Keep until warranty expires or for seven years to support tax returns, otherwise discard them
  • Warranties & service agreements - Keep until warranty or agreement expires
  • Pay Stubs - Keep until you get a new stub; shred the year end statement once it’s verified to be correct
  • Home Repair bills & contracts - Keep for fourteen years
  • Utility Bills - Keep for three months
  • Car title - keep until you sell your vehicle
  • Car Bill of Sale - Keep indefinitely for liability reasons
  • Social Security Statements - Keep until you get a new one
  • Deeds to property - Keep until property sold


Estate Planning


In order to save your family a lot of stress, anxiety and heartache, communicating your wishes before and upon your passing is critical.  Estate planning can effectively mitigate any confusion about what you wish to do with your assets when you pass away.


If you haven’t effectively planned and don’t have the right types of documents in place, the state will step in and your assets will pass through their probate process.  You will lose all privacy around the assets which are distributed through this process, and your assets may be divided in a way against your wishes.  To prevent this from happening, make sure you have the following estate planning documents and keep them updated and shred any outdated versions.


Retention guidelines for your estate planning documents:

  • Health Care proxy or Medical Power of Attorney - Keep until updated
  • Living Trust - Keep until updated
  • Living Will - Keep until updated
  • Financial Power of Attorney - Keep until updated
  • Will - Keep until updated


We know this is a lot of paperwork to keep on file and you never know when you’re going to need to have certain documents available.  Do your best to protect these documents by placing them into a fireproof lock box or safe.  It’s would be wise to share the location and how to access it, with only people you trust.  When you’ve determined that a document is no longer needed, shredding would be the best way to discard it.  Don’t place whole documents into the trash.


Regardless of how secure the physical location of your documents are, a natural disaster, fire or a flood can destroy them in an instant.  Using a secure online service, like Raymond James Vault, is a good idea and can help in replacing those documents more quickly.


Following these guidelines will ensure you’re prepared for whatever life throws at you.  It’ll also give you peace of mind knowing that all of your most important documents are in order and safe.





Any opinions are those of James Hyre and not necessarily those of Raymond James.

Raymond James and its advisors do not offer legal advice. You should discuss any legal matters with the appropriate professional.




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