Getting Your Files in Order


Getting your files in order?  There are still things you need to hold on to …

By Nancy J. Brady, RN, Esq., Brady & Bader LLP, Attorneys at Law


Spending time at home the past few months has resulted in many people getting their “house in order”.  At our house, we have been cleaning out old files, and deciding what to shred, and what to keep.  For me, this dreaded task has been spurred in part by the local free shredding event taking place this month at our local bank.  While it is important to debride the file cabinets for space and orderliness, it is important NOT to discard documents you may need in the future.  As elderlaw attorneys we often make recommendations to our clients as to what documents should be kept, and what can be shredded and discarded.  In addition to keeping a list ready for your loved ones with important numbers such as your doctor, insurance company, passwords to your computer if needed, alternate numbers for family members, and the location of your important papers, the following is a summary of what we recommend you keep in your files.  

To begin with, since you most likely have recently met with your accountant, we recommend keeping the prior five years of tax returns, with accompanying documentation.  So, this is 2020- you should keep returns for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015.  Having these returns available becomes important should you become ill and need to provide documentation of your finances for medical benefits eligibility.  Each year you do your taxes, you can discard the oldest return.

All financial statement for the past sixty months- since this is July, you should keep all pages of all statements for any accounts you had ownership interest in (even if closed) from July 2015 through now.  It is not necessary to keep them stapled together, just keep all the pages – even if they are blank pages- and keep all copies of checks – especially checks over $2000.00.  As with the taxes, each year you can discard the oldest 12 months. 

Every year when you receive your updated income information from Social Security or your pension, keep those statements.  You will only need to keep the most recent year for those statements.  

Savings bonds- keep these in a safe place.  You should look up the value of these periodically, on the US Treasury website (  Each year you should ask your accountant what to cash out, since the income is taxable the accountant can provide good advice regarding how much or how little you should cash without affecting your income for taxes too greatly.

Stock certificates- if you hold original stock certificates consider transferring them to a brokerage account- this will make it much easier to transfer or cash out stock if the need arises and will avoid the issues that arise with lost stock certificates. 

Stock and lease to cooperative- keep the originals in a safe place and make a set of copies and keep in a different place.

Deed homeowners and flood policies- living where we live, most of us have had firsthand experience with having to have these documents handy after Hurricane Sandy, keep a set of copies separate from your originals, on your computer or with a family member.

Title to your motor vehicles and insurance information:  keep originals in one place and set of copies in another.

Personal documents to keep include birth certificates, baptismal certificates, passports- even if expired, photo ID- drivers or non-driver’s license.  You should keep marriage certificates, spouse’s death certificate, divorce decree.  Military discharge papers should also be kept.  It is advisable to make copies of each of these documents and keep the originals in a safe place and the copies in a different place, on your computer, or give to one of your children to hold. 

Funeral Plans:  make a set of copies, give one set to your loved one, and keep a set in your files at home. 

Health insurance cards, credit cards, list of important phone numbers:  again, make copies of all, keep originals in your wallet, and keep set of copies in your files, and perhaps give another set to your loved ones. 

Basic estate planning documents:  You should keep your original Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney and Last Will and Testament in a safe place.  Let your agents/representatives named on these documents know where you keep the originals and give them a set of copies.  Do  not ever write on any of these documents, and never unstaple the Will.  You need to review these documents regularly to make sure there are no changes you want to make, or if any circumstances in your family change- (births, deaths, family members’ illness or disability) to make sure your documents accurately represent your intentions for the changed circumstances. 

In conclusion, while none of us want to be overrun with papers, it is important to have certain papers in your possession, particularly in an emergency situation.  You should tell your trusted loved ones where your important papers are, and where applicable give them a set of copies.  Some people take the extra step and keep a “go bag” ready with insurance papers, deeds, credit and debit cards, financial information, health insurance information, and estate planning documents as well. 

Happy shredding! 

Nancy J. Brady is a partner in the law firm Brady & Bader LLP Attorneys at Law.  The attorneys can be reached at 1-718-945-7777. The office is open by appointment and we are taking all steps necessary in light of the pandemic to maintain a safe environment.