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Record Keeping

The paper trail that follows us throughout our lives includes records that track births, deaths, marriages, divorces and adoptions among other life changing events. Personal records also document purchases, investments, assets and home improvements.

Keep in mind: The better organized you are, the better you can manage your affairs, support claims on your tax returns, and be certain that your heirs can easily find thepaperwork they need. Here is a checklist of someimportant documents you need to save:

Taxes.Copies of past returns (you should generally keep these for seven years); receipts of deductible expenses; income statements including any interest and dividend earned; tax payments, and cancelled checks (retain for seven years). Real estate.Deeds; title papers; appraisals; records of renovations, additions and repairs; mortgages and receipts of payments, and records of purchase prices and closing and selling costs. Finances. Bank statements; stock and bond certificates; mutual fund records; records of purchase dates and prices, dividend or interest payments and dates; savings certificates; savings passbooks; loan papers, list of credit cards. Insurance and retirement. Insurance policies; IRA documentation; descriptions and statements from pension and profit sharing plans; beneficiary designation forms. Personal documents. Wills; trust agreements; powers of attorney; living wills; birth and death certificates; marriage licenses; adoption and custody papers; divorce and separation papers; property agreements; military records; passport, and Social Security records.

Once your files are organized, don't fall into the trap of saving unnecessary documents. Clean them out periodically. And decide where to store the documents. For example, a safe deposit box for originals, a fireproof filing cabinet for copies and other copies given to loved ones or advisers. The important thing is that the papers are safe and your loved ones know how to access them. Your future and theirs depend on it.

Organizing records may not be the most enjoyable task, butit gives you a full picture of your finances and lets you handle taxand other money disputes efficiently and with supporting documentation.

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