Organizing and Keeping Files

File folders of paperwork

Many of our clients come into the office toting grocery bags, cardboard boxes or backpacks filled with about fifty years of paperwork.

As time goes by and our financial situations change, the amount of paperwork we must keep grows exponentially. That said, by the time a person gets to be 70, 85 or 102 years old, the amount of paperwork can be quite monumental.

What must be kept?

Contracts, tax forms, bank accounts, Social Security statements, legal documents, and retirement accounts make up the most crucial pieces of personal financial information we must keep. Then there are health insurance policies, Medicare summary notices, prescription drug receipts, and the ever-changing Medicare options to keep up with.

How about personal information like birth certificates, marriage certificates, Social Security cards, and military records? It all must be kept and be easily accessible, and this is not even a complete list. Click here to see what documents you need to apply for Veteran Benefits or Medicaid.

How does one keep up with this colossal list of paperwork?

  1. Create a Filing System
    Once set-up, an efficient filing system just takes a little bit of effort at regular intervals. Of course, the set-up requires more effort and time than the maintenance. A filing system can be made in a filing cabinet or an expanding file folder. Create labels for each section to fit your situation, like: Automobiles, Bank Accounts, Credit Cards, Insurance-Health, Insurance-Property, Medical Records/Prescriptions, Mortgage, Personal, Retirement, Taxes, and Utilities. This is just an example; the labels that will work for you depend on your situation, but the most important section, or label, in your filing system is, “To Be Filed.”
  2. Make a “To Be Filed” Folder
    Every system, especially an organizing system, must have a solution for laziness. When you receive information in the mail or print something off of the Internet that will not be filed right away, put it in the “To Be Filed” section. Then once a month, file those papers in their assigned spot. It is a good idea to do this when you are paying bills.
  3. Keep Your Paperwork
    Some papers must be kept forever, some just for a month or so. Here is a quick guide on how long to keep paperwork:

What records to keep: 
Tax returns, keep forever
Tax return documentation, for six years
Contracts, forever
Real estate records, forever
Last pay stub of a job if you leave that job
Last pay stub of the year for your current job
All mortgage payment checks (statements), until mortgage is paid off
All student loan payments, until loan is paid off
Car loan payment stubs, until the car is paid off
Cancelled checks, for 7 years
Bank deposit slips, for 7 years
Bank statements, for 7 years
Home improvement records, ownership period plus 7 years
Investment records, ownership period plus 7 years

What records to toss: 
Credit card statements that are more than three years old
Past insurance statements
Old utility bills, except the most recent one from your old address if you’ve moved
Recently paid bills (statements), once you have something saying they’ve been paid.

  1. Stay on Top of Filing
    Cleaning up your records once a year, usually around tax-time, will keep your records updated and condensed. Then when you need them, they are easy to access. Organizing may be tedious, but we see what families go through when they cannot find these important documents quickly. When applying for Medicaid or Veterans Benefits, the delay in locating necessary documentation can be costly. Applications cannot be submitted until they have their supporting documents, and benefits cannot start until the application is received and approved by the Veterans Administration or Department of Family and Children Services. A bit of tedious work now can save you a lot of stress and money later.

If you found this interesting, you may find Hurley Elder Care Law’s post “A To Do List for Aging Loved Ones” to be very helpful as well. In that post we explored how to talk to aging loved ones about their finances and what important pieces of information should be shared.

If you have questions or concerns for our Certified Elder Law Attorneys, please contact our team through our website or by phone (404) 843-0121.

To learn more about our team, please visit our Team Page.