When my mom passed away in 2008, like other people, I had to go through all of her papers. Boy did she save everything! I ran across a hospital bill from 1948. It cost $175.00 to bring me into this world. But seriously, how long should one keep documents be it tax returns, bills, canceled checks, etc? Here’s what the Sedgwick County Extension Service suggests.

Keep everything until a spouse’s estate is completely settled. Once it is concluded you can start cleaning out the files. But a personal note I would keep all the probate pleadings for couple of years. I’ve probated some estates where after they were concluded, or so we thought, and then we found additional assets some two years later.

Tax returns should be kept for at least seven years. Receipts and records used to substantiate income and deductions should be kept for a minimum of three years for federal tax returns and four years for state. Keep your paycheck stubs for three years.

Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce papers should be kept forever.

Canceled checks for installment debts should be kept for 5 to 6 years after the debt is paid. Canceled mortgage checks for three years. Canceled checks for three years. There is no need to keep old bills once they are paid.

Receipts for big-ticket, unusual or expensive items, should be kept as long as you own the item. If an appliance breaks down, you can use the receipt or canceled check to determine if the item is under warranty. If your home was burglarized, you can prove to the insurance company that you owned the items.

Warranties and operating manuals should be kept as long as you own the item. Home repair receipts and canceled checks for permanent home improvements will be needed for income tax purposes when the house is sold. It is recommended you should keep the information even if you intend to live in the house for the rest of your life. It may be needed to settle your estate. Papers given to you when you took out a mortgage on your home should be kept until the home is sold even if the mortgage is paid off.
To be on the safe side you should keep credit card statements for three years in case you need to prove how much you paid for something. Credit card receipts should be kept until the bill comes in to make sure the receipts match the statement. This has happened to me a couple of times.

As a general rule, the harder an item is to replace, the safer the place it needs to be kept in. For example, birth certificates for older people and U.S. Savings Bonds should be put in a safety deposit box or a fireproof safe.

I hope you had a peaceful Christmas and prosperous New Year!


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