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How Long to Keep Important Papers

Legal Lad and the Get-it-Done Guy tell you what paperwork you need to keep and how long.

By
Stever Robbins and Adam Freedman,
April 15, 2008
Episode #025

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First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.

This is Stever Robbins, host of the Get-it-Done Guy.

Cami from Chicago wrote in:

I am a bit of a paper hoarder. I mean well, but I don't want to lose any important records.  My problem is I don't know when to purge these records.  I've heard lots of conflicting information about what to purge and when.  I am hoping that you could set the record straight.

We all have tons of crap lying around – which docs do you keep, and which can you toss? What is the best way to store these docs, and how long do you have to keep everything?

Legal Lad

To begin, there are several documents that you should keep safe, and keep forever. These document are relevant to claiming benefits and other legal rights.

First, keep all birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates. These documents are needed for government benefits, remarriage, and many immigration proceedings. You should store them somewhere very safe, even if it is not convenient to retrieve them. This is because you will rarely need them, but when you do, you must have the originals in many instances.

Medical records: I recommend that you keep a copy of any medical records you have regarding immunizations, hospitalizations, and prescriptions. Your doctor has a copy of your most recent files, but things like immunizations are not as likely. Also, if the doctor's office burns down, you will not have these records. Documents related to public benefits: Keep all documents related to social security, medicare, medicaid and public assistance.  They are necessary to prove eligibility and payments.

Military and Selective Service Records: Keep safe all your military records for future benefits and future service. The military will likely keep a copy, but if you ever get into a dispute with the military over your records, it is very important to have your own copy.

Immigration Documents: Immigration documents are extremely important for the rest of your life for purposes of immigrating again, and to prove eligibility to vote in some circumstances. 

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