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How Long Should I Keep Legal Documents After a Death?

After a death, it’s important to keep certain legal documents around for a while. Here’s what you need to know.

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The death of a loved one is a challenging and tumultuous time. If you’ve been named your loved one’s estate executor, you’re suddently facing significant legal and financial responsibilities that you’ll need to navigate while in the midst of grief. Probate requires a significant amount of paperwork, including the deceased’s last will and testament, a death certificate, paperwork for trusts and powers of attorney, and a myriad financial records. But how long is it necessary to keep those documents after a loved one passed away?

How long should tax returns be kept?

Tax returns are one of those documents that are vital for assessing the value of the estate and for proving that all income taxes and estate taxes have been paid. In Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency expects an executor to keep copies of returns for six years following the death of a taxpayer. During that time, the CRA could audit the deceased’s tax returns if they suspect any incongruities.

In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service can also randomly audit a deceased’s tax returns for up to six years after they passed away. It’s therefore a good idea to keep all necessary tax documents on hand for that period of time, just in case.

What documentation should be kept?

In addition to tax returns and receipts, there are other certain legal and financial documents pertaining to probate that you should hold on to for several years after someone’s death.

Legal records

Legal records can include things like grants of probate, probate applications, affidavits, and anything else pertaining to local, provincial, federal, or state laws. These can include:

  • Birth certificate;

  • Death certificate;

  • Social security/Pension Plan records

  • Marriage certificates and divorce records;

  • Legal will;

  • Powers of attorney and trust documents.

These records should be kept indefinitely, and passed down if necessary.

Financial documents

These kinds of documents don’t just include tax returns: Anything related to the estate’s finances should be kept for at least six years after someone passes. Financial documents can include:

  • Account statements from accounts such as chequing, savings, and investment accounts, as well as any retirement accounts;

  • Receipts;

  • Pay stubs;

  • Any type of government assistance, such as disability benefits, childcare subsidies, and more.

Medical documents

An individual’s medical records are private, so the only person who can access and maintain them is their personal representative/estate executor. Medical records are important for identifying any genetic medical issues that may run in the family, as well as keeping an overview of any treatments and insurance coverage they had. These records can include:

  • Health insurance cards;

  • Medical tests, such as blood tests and x-rays;

  • Medical history;

  • Prescriptions;

  • Hospital discharge papers.

These kinds of records should also be kept for at least six years.

What do you do if you are unsure if a document should be kept

When in doubt, keep it. Creating an organized filing and storage system from the start will help you sort out what you do and don’t need later on, as well as allowing you to quickly find a document if you do end up needing it.

Find a storage system that works for you: Perhaps you prefer keeping paper copies in a filing cabinet in your office, or perhaps you’d rather digitize everything and store it in a cloud storage system (although you should keep some originals, such as a will and birth certificates).

If you’re currently wondering how you’re going to be able to keep track of all this paperwork, ClearEstate’s digital vault offers a safe and convenient solution. By keeping all important documents in one place, you’ll be able to access them whenever you need them. Curious to learn more? Schedule a free consultation with one of our estate professionals and learn how we can help you navigate this process.

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