Where Are Your Important Documents?

Reblogger Cheryl Ritchie
Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX Leading Edge www.GoldenResults.com 71785

I just had a "clean out" on a listing which meant everything had to go to prepare it for market. The concept of important documets in one place became a real eye opener.

Original content by Debbie Atwood

Where are your important documents?

On July 4, 2010, my mother lost her 11 year battle with ovarian cancer.  I spent 8 weeks caring for her full time in hospice.  I learned more in those 8 weeks about my mother, about my family, about life and about myself than I probably ever have.  

One lesson I want to share.  My mother was a very organized woman.  She kept everything in it's place and could lay her finger on anything at any time.  That was a good thing for me when I forgot my homework and she would bring it to school for me.  Or when my brother couldn't find his baseball mitt 5 minutes before it was time to leave for practice, or when Dad misplaced his keys.  Mom knew where everything was.  

So when it was time to talk about the "important documents" we would need after mom's death I wasn't concerned.  But my siblings and I soon found out that it might be a challenge to find those documents after all. In the last year or so her memory started getting a little less keen and in her last weeks it was difficult to remember anything at all.  She called it her "chemo brain".  Fortunately, we were able to find all of her important documents before her death.  They were all tucked away in folders in a couple of fire resistant file cabinets.  Nice and orderly.  This led me to wonder just how many elderly people go through this same type of thing and their family is left to sort and try to find these documents after their death.  

In August, an elderly client of mine asked me to sell his vacant lot.  He had purchased the land on a private contract. The lot has been paid off for years.  I asked him if he had the fulfillment of contract deed.  "The what?" was his reply.  I explained to him what I was looking for and he said he didn't know and what if he didn't have it? He thought the original landowner would surely be dead by now since he was 90 years old way back then.  

Again, fortunately for my client he was able to put his hands on it eventually. He had found it in an envelope in a box in his garage.

Once again, this led me to think of a list of some important documents you may have and where to keep them.

Originals you rarely need should be stored in a bank safe-deposit box.

When you should discard and who you should give copies to.

Adoption papers - Never discard -  Executor, lawyer

Citizenship Papers - Never discard - Executor

Divorce Decree - Never discard - Lawyer

Lawsuits - Never discard- Lawyer

Household Inventory - Never  discard - Financial Advisor

Photos of Possessions -  Never discard - Financial Advisor

Military Discharge - Never discard

Veteran's Papers - Never discard


Originals you sometimes need should be stored in a Fire resistant safe at home.

When to discard/shred and who to give copies to:

Birth Certificate - Never discard

Cemetery Deed - Never discard - Heir

Real Estate Deeds - 10 yrs after property is sold

Death Certificates - Never discard -  Executor

Diplomas - Never discard

Guardianship Arrangements - Never discard - Executor, guardian

Health Records - Never discard - Doctor

Immunization Records - Never discard - Doctor

Marriage Certificate - Never discard - Executor

Medical Directive - Never discard - Doctor, Heir

Naturalization Certificate - Never discard


Tax Documents should be stored in a locked filing cabinet

When to discard:

Bank Statements - Seven Years

Cancelled Checks - Seven Years

Credit Card Statements - Seven Years

Home Purchase/Improvement (deeds, surveys, title policies, loan papers, receipts etc. ) - Seven Years after home is sold

Tax Returns/Supporting documents - Seven years after filing date

Form 8606 - Seven years after IRA is liquidated


Investment Documents should be stored in a locked filing cabinet

When to discard and who to give copies to:

Annuity Contracts - Annuity paid out - Financial Advisor

Loan Agreements - Ten years after loan is repaid

Pension Plan Documents - Never discard - Financial Advisor

Real Estate Purchase & Improvements - Seven years after property is sold

Investment Account Statements - Seven years after last investment held in account is sold

Of course, this is just a partial list of documents you might keep.  There are others, such as Trust Documents, Savings Bonds, Power of Attorney, Will and Lease Agreements for example.  

I gave this list to my elderly client once he found his deed.  Maybe you have a loved one or a client who might appreciate the reminder? Where are your important documents?


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Cheryl Ritchie

Southern Maryland 301-980-7566
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