What Documents Can I Destroy While Sheltering at Home?

Lewitt Hackman
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Lewitt Hackman

The following are intended to be helpful tips to assist you in clearing some clutter while we have some time at home.

1. Keep your original estate plan documents in a fire-proof environment, wrapped in plastic.

2. Keep your disability insurance, long term care insurance, life insurance, and annuity policies in a fire-proof environment, wrapped in plastic.

3. Keep your birth certificates, marriage certificate, divorce documents and death certificates in a fire proof environment, wrapped in plastic.

4. Save all documentation of the purchase of any property and improvements to property.

5. You can shred:

a. Bank deposits and ATM receipts (keep until you reconcile with monthly statements);

b. Credit-card bills (keep if needed to prove a charitable deduction or product warranty. You may discard most credit card information when you get the annual statement);

c. Property/casualty insurance policies (keep until your new policies are received);

d. Monthly investment statements (shred when annual statements received), but keep all documents depicting costs of investments;

e. Pay stubs (keep until you reconcile with your annual W-2 form or if you will be requiring financing for a car or home loan anytime soon);

f. Receipts you’re not using to itemize tax deductions or return merchandise.

6. To be prudent, tax documents should be kept for 7 years from the date you filed your original return. There are different rules for federal and California returns, and based on the losses/deductions you claim. If you do not file a return, keep all your financial information in case you are forced to reconstruct one.

7. Keep all documentation related to Loans which are outstanding, until the loan is paid off.

8. Keep a Warranty File for all of your appliances/devices, and the receipts for those appliances/devices together in ONE file.

If you are able to SCAN your documents into a PDF or other digital format and save those documents on your computer and on a backup external hard drive (or cloud storage) you can clear away most of your banking, financial records, including tax returns, because you have a complete copy. For now, you will need the originals of Paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 above in the event of any issues when a death occurs.

Other Helpful Tips:

Appliances: When you buy a large appliance, most retailers will haul away the old one. ApplianceSmart.com, Best Buy, Sears, and some utilities participate in the EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal Program, which ensures, among other things, that chemicals are recovered, and that the metal, plastic, and glass are recycled. Some utilities will even pay you to dispose of an energy-wasting appliance. Find out whether your town or county government offers an appliance-recycling program.

Books: The growing popularity of e-readers may mean that people are becoming less attached to their old books and are looking for new homes for them. To sell used books, check out:

  • Cash4Books.net
  • BlueRocketBooks.com
  • Half.com, an eBay company
  • BookScouter.com (compares prices at dozens of book-buying sites to find the one that will pay the most for your books)

To donate your books, contact a local library, church, day-care center, senior center, school, homeless shelter, or nonprofit agency, or try the Vietnam Veterans of America, Goodwill, or Salvation Army. Other organizations that accept used books (typically in very good condition) include these:

  • BooksForSoldiers.com (lets you send to troops once you’ve registered as a volunteer)
  • Books for Africa.org
  • Books for America.org

Building Supplies: Habitat for Humanity runs ReStores which sell leftovers from retailers and homeowners.

Furniture, Bicycles, Clothing: Goodwill and Salvation Army are great places to start, but you may check with your local Food Bank, Mission, Temple, Church, and Boys or Girls Clubs.

Boxes. If you can, keep your computer or television boxes in case you move or give the items away in the future.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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