How Long Should I Keep Legal Documents After A Death?

Managing Legal Documents After A Death

We’re all aware of the process of dealing with the loss of a friend, family member, or loved one: we wear black, attend a funeral, and honor their life. Working with someone’s death becomes more challenging, whether you’re an executor or an appointed representative. Suddenly, you’re in charge of untangling this person’s life, things, and documentation.

It is difficult to determine which papers must be maintained and how long they must be kept. While a professional law firm may assist you in sorting through records and determining which papers to keep, the following is a checklist of what should be kept and for how long:

Tax Returns Should Be Keep For How Long?

When dealing with the legal records of a deceased person, the tax returns are usually the most important consideration. A tax audit has a four-year statute of limitations. This means that the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) can audit the deceased’s tax returns at random during the next four years. Regardless of the statute of limitations, it is suggested that all tax records be kept for at least six years if any problems regarding the deceased person’s returns surface. This includes any documents that have been filed and effective tax forms and receipts.

Are There Any Other Records That Should Be Kept?

There’s more to a deceased person’s paperwork than tax returns. While the thought of all the paperwork may be intimidating, here are some critical documents to keep, grouped into four categories:

Legal Records:

Any document relating to the law, whether federal, provincial, or local, is considered a legal record. These kinds of records should be retained for as long as possible. This implies that all legal documents should be passed down from one beneficiary to the next. If you have inherited these documents, keep them with your own vital records and send them on to your beneficiary. The deceased’s death certificate is among the documents, as are the following records:

  • Certificate of Birth
  • Card of Social Security
  • Certificate of Marriage
  • Divorce orders
  • Will be legal
  • Certificate of Death

Any of these documents could be needed to administer the estate’s affairs. You may deal with estate disputes if you don’t have proof of marriage, prenuptial agreements, and/or divorce. At the very least, you should save these vital records for family history or genealogy purposes.

Documents Financial:

The need to save the deceased’s tax returns has already been discussed, but other financial papers should also be held. After any applicable estate taxes are submitted, these documents should be kept for at least three years. The following are important financial documents:

  • Statements of Accounts
  • Receipts
  • stubs of pay
  • Statements of retirement benefits and distributions
  • Returns on taxes

These documents may be sought during a tax return or possibly an audit, so it’s wise to maintain them on hand.

Medical Documents:

You should keep medical documents and information for at least ten years. On the other hand, medical records are protected by privacy regulations, so you’d have to be an authorized representative or legal executor of the person’s estate to get access to them. Important medical documentation examples include:

  • Cards for health insurance
  • Medical examinations
  • Medical background
  • Prescriptions
  • Forms for hospital discharge 

These documents will help determine the sort of health insurance the deceased had and any medical conditions they had (or did not suffer from). This information can also assist family members in determining whether any of these problems are genetic. You may also want to maintain track of visits and treatments delivered by having documentation relating to the findings of hospital visits.

Additionally Important Documents:

After someone passes away, you may look through a stack of miscellaneous documents. How do you decide what to save and what to discard? Consider maintaining the following records before discarding anything that isn’t legal, financial, or medical:

  • Insurance for your home and automobile
  • Rental contracts
  • Mail

If you and the deceased shared a residence, you might want to contact the sender and inform them of the person’s death. If you didn’t live with the deceased, you’d need to show documentation that you’re the executor of their estate before you may change their mailing address.

Aside from mail, it would help if you tried to save these documents for at least 10 years — especially home and auto insurance, which can aid in estate management. On the other hand, diplomas are rarely legally necessary but may have sentimental value.

Classification Of Important Documents:

Sifting through the items of a deceased person can be difficult, especially when dealing with papers. Invest in an accordion file folder to split the documents by year to make the chore less unpleasant and more structured. Make sure everything is labeled, and go through the folder once a year to see what material no longer needs to be maintained.

Do not hesitate to call our skilled lawyers at Heritage Law if you are dealing with the papers of a deceased family member, friend, or loved one. We can take the time to help you sort through the documentation and make sure that all of the essential documents are preserved safely.