What documents should I shred and what documents should I keep?

I was visiting an elderly client recently and after our usual chat over a cup of tea and Chelsea bun I set about helping her clear the mounds of paperwork which were covering every work space in the kitchen and every surface of all downstairs tables .There were piles of assorted filing spewing forth from drawers and mountains of superfluous documents stuffed randomly into magazine racks.

But my client is certainly not alone in amassing ever-growing piles of paperwork. We all get tons of junk mail from credit card applications, insurance packages or a 50 page retirement fund report from a job you had a decade ago. Not only does excess paperwork take up a lot of space but it also makes things very hard for your family if you were to die or lose capacity and need to have your affairs managed by someone else. You can make life much easier for family members by having the right papers in the right places. It will also save you hours of hunting around for that document you urgently need but cannot quite remember the safe place you put it.

I think the main reason people accumulate so much paperwork is because they are uncertain what records to keep and what to discard. So to help you I have composed a checklist of what I think should be kept and where best to keep it. The list is of course not exhaustive!

Depending on what type of documents you are dealing with, you need to store some of them for certain periods of time, others you can digitise and others you can throw away. Let me start with the documents you need to keep physical copies of forever. These are best stored in the one place-perhaps in a metal fire-proof deposit box.

  • Birth Certificates
  • Death Certificates for deceased family members
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Any divorce or legal papers regarding dissolution of a marriage
  • Adoption papers
  • Copy of your current Will and Power of Attorney
  • Copy of the title deeds of your property
  • Important contracts
  • Household Inventory – if there were a fire or burglary in your home, this record will help you remember what has to be replaced and how much each item is worth. An inventory may also highlight the need to increase your insurance if necessary.
  • Education information such as degree papers, diplomas etc

You should also keep the following : A small filing cabinet is a perfect place to keep all the documents listed below.

  • Utilities- it is useful to keep a note of all your providers for gas, electricity, telephone, and internet together with account and customer numbers. You do not need to retain old bills.
  • Current insurance policies for building and contents. Outdated policies should be discarded.
  • Warranties, manuals and receipts for household appliances or guarantees for home improvements should also be retained. Expired warranties and guarantees can be destroyed.
  • Vehicle papers-(tax discs are all now done online). You should ,however, keep together the vehicle registration form, MOT certificate, car insurance policy and any loan documentation relating to the purchase of the vehicle.

Now for your financial papers, what should you keep?

  • Bank statements and tax certificates- Ideally these should be held for around 6 years although HMRC can in some circumstances look back further than that. At a minimum bank statements should be kept for two years following the end of the tax year to which they relate.
  • Life insurance policies should be stored indefinitely and all other insurance documents should be stored safely for as long as the policies remain active.
  • Investments –Almost all shareholdings now are held without certificates. You should keep a written list of all your investments noting down any holdings which are held as share certificates and those which are not. The list should be up-dated as and when required. The papers relating to old inactive investments should be thrown out.
  • All relevant pension plan documents

Papers best stored by your solicitor:

  • Your Will- having a valid Will is extremely important and should be retained in a secure place and family members should know where it is. Mitchells Roberton offer a free storage service.
  • Your Power of Attorney-I cannot stress enough the value of having a Power of Attorney in place. Again Mitchells Roberton will store a Power of Attorney for you at no charge.
  • The title deeds to your property are best held by your solicitor. At the moment we hold many thousands of title deeds for our clients.

Digital Assets- Keeping a track of your digital assets is as important as keeping paperwork safe. There is a delicate balance between security and enabling a family member to access any passwords should they be needed.

That is pretty much it!  But remember that your papers should be reviewed ideally once a year to discard items no longer needed. Of course you should always shred anything that has personal information like your name, address, phone number, or bank account details.

There is no time like the present to get your paperwork in order and if I can help  please call me Alison Gourley on 0141-552-3422 or email me at ajg@mitchells-roberton.co.uk.

And now I am going home to give the shredder a well overdue work-out!

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About Alison Gourley

Alison graduated from Edinburgh University School of Law in 1991. She joined Mitchells Roberton in 1996 and became an Associate thereafter. Alison specialises in both commercial and residential conveyancing, advising individuals, large and small businesses, banks, charities and further education institutions on all property transactions. Having 20 years experience in property law Alison has developed excellent relationships with surveyors, independent financial advisers and banks so is ready to act swiftly and effectively to meet her clients’ needs in an ever changing property market. She enjoys getting to know her clients and is committed to giving them an efficient service and is always friendly and approachable. She is also involved with the marketing aspects of the firm and is the solicitor in the office who trains the conveyancing paralegals. Alison is married to a photographer and has one child. In her free moments she likes to keep fit. She is a talented amateur artist and loves nature and the great outdoors.

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