Here’s how long to hold onto all of that.
If you’re still in probate and haven’t filed your final estate tax returns, don’t throw anything away.
Keep all legal documents and correspondence, including tax returns of the deceased while completing probate and estate settlement.
Ideally track all the activity and decisions you make as the executor or personal representative as well. This serves as a safeguard against any disputes that may arise in the future, and is especially important in the context of executor expenses and distributions.
The idea is to create a paper trail proving that you were acting in alignment with the will, if it exists, or the appropriate intestacy laws, if it doesn’t.
If you’ve finished probate and filed your final estate return, keep the tax returns and other documents for 3-4 years.
If you’ve already closed the estate in the eyes of the probate court, keep all of the following items for the next 3-4 years:
- Death certificate of the deceased
- Birth certificate of the deceased
- Estate tax returns
- Any documentation of executor expenses and receipts related to the estate tax return
- Final personal tax returns
- Any tax documents related to the returns (1099s, W-2s, etc.)
- Any life insurance documents
- Any legal correspondence
- Any copies of affidavits of forms you submitted during probate
- Gift tax returns
- Any pension or payout statements of any kind
- Any other documentation that is relevant to the estate
Just throw the documents into a physical folder and/or email folder and hang onto them. Chances are you won’t need to pull them out again, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. After a few years have passed, shred them to minimize your risk of fraud.
Never throw away the death certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate, or divorce papers.
The main reason you may need documents such as the death certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate, or divorce papers are to prove ownership or your relationship to the deceased. Getting rid of that proof can throw you down into a rabbit hole of bureaucracy that you do NOT want to be a part of, and in some cases completely prevent you from doing what you want with the relevant asset.
When in doubt, hang on to any documents that seem important.
If you’re worried about a particular document and don’t have a probate or estate lawyer on hand to ask, just keep it. It’s not that much trouble, and you’re better off putting them into storage than regretting needing it one day.