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Senior Moments: Paperwork purge, the new spring cleaning

By Emma Edwards, Friday, May 4, 2018

Spring cleaning. Unnecessary clutter.

“When I find it, I don’t need it. When I need it, I can’t find it.”

Ever feel that way? I decided to get serious lately and dive in. I can no longer haul all the boxes and bags out of my Fibber McGee & Molly closet. So the “kids” (who are seniors themselves) came to my rescue, unloading the first of my three closets. It took up half my living room space.

The “easy part” was the clothes. I know I should give to a worthwhile charity whatever I have not worn in two years. Some say only one year.

Anyway, I invited the kids to be here when I sorted the stuff into bags, tubs and boxes in case there was a treasure they wanted. But they were not the least bit interested in any of my treasures.

More than a few tubs contained “important papers” dating to 2004, 1969 and 1978 and on and on. We discussed how long to keep paperwork. That’s debatable, I learned, but settled on the following suggestions.

One of my sources suggested we “protect our identity by shredding anything that contains more personal information than you can find in the phone book.” Upon further research, I found I could reduce my “must save” papers to one black file box covering all my many years. We can toss (shred) ATM receipts, credit card receipts, statements and utility bills after paying them.

To sum up, the things to keep for one year are paycheck stubs, bank statements, brokerage paperwork, 401(k) and IRA statements and other investment paperwork. Also keep receipts for health care items.

Things to keep seven years include papers supporting your tax returns, including W-2s, 1099s and deductions.

Papers to keep indefinitely are tax returns, IRS forms filed, receipts for capital improvements (until seven years after you sell the house), investment statements, pension plan papers, savings bonds until redeemed, loan documents till paid off, vehicle titles and registration papers for cars, boats, trucks, etc. Keep paperwork for active insurance policies as well as warranties and receipts for big purchases you still own or until the warranty expires.

Those things to keep forever aren’t hard to figure out. These include personal and family records such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce papers, Social Security cards, military discharge papers and estate-planning documents (power of attorney, will trust and advanced directive).

Jim Miller, author of “The Savvy Senior” book, from which I obtained some of these nuggets of wisdom, also says to keep these forever items in a fireproof safe or safe-deposit box. Miller also includes instructions for computer savvy people.

Some of us older seniors may remember as I do how we used to lay in bed at night in the ‘40s and listen to Fibber McGee & Molly. I can still remember his famous line, “ ‘Tain’t funny, McGee.”

That is how I feel about all this sorting!


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