The Importance of Good Recordkeeping – and Which Documents to Keep
As the ease of managing accounts and finances online continues to increase, many of our clients wonder which documents, records, and papers they actually need to keep around the house. Not having certain documents on hand can be frustrating and can cause a delay in getting the legal services you need, especially if you’re thinking about funding a trust, applying for the VA Aid & Attendance Pension, or applying for Medicaid. Another good reason to keep these documents in a safe place and in an organized format is to make it easier for your children or loved ones to find and interpret your financial and personal information after you pass away or become incapacitated. No one wants to be a pack rat, but it can be even worse to discard documents that you’ll end up needing later on. If you’re looking to de-clutter but you’re worried about discarding an important document, use the following list as a guide as to which documents are important to keep around:
- Previously filed income tax returns. Not only should you keep the past seven years’ worth of tax returns in the event that you are audited, but these documents often prove to be an important source of information about your income and expenses when you begin to plan for long-term care.
- Pensions and social security statements. If you meet with an estate planning and elder law attorney for the purpose of getting an income-based benefit, such as Medicaid or VA Aid and Attendance, you will need documentation of what benefits you already receive in order to determine your eligibility.
- Documents regarding prepaid funeral and burial arrangements. This paperwork will be something that your children will need to see after you pass away. Additionally, information about prepaid funeral plans can be useful information for your estate planning attorney to have, especially if they are looking into crisis planning techniques in order to preserve your assets from a Medicaid spend-down.
- DD-214. If you served in the military, you know that a DD-214 serves as proof of your military service. It is the document that you receive upon your separation from the military. If you plan on applying for VA benefits, you’re going to need a copy of this document to prove that you are eligible for the benefit.
- Proof of financial accounts, even those closed within the previous five years. These documents are important so that your attorney can determine your eligibility for Medicaid benefits, as well as for estate planning purposes.
- Originals of estate planning documents, including your last will and testament, any trust that you may have executed, general durable power of attorney, advance medical directive, medical power of attorney, and HIPAA authorization. It is important to keep these documents in a secure area such as a fireproof safe or safe deposit box so that your loved ones can access them and your wishes can be carried out if you become incapacitated or after you pass away.
If you have all of these records, it is important to keep them organized in a filing cabinet or safe where they will be easily found and interpreted if something were to happen to you. Always make sure that your loved ones know which documents you have and where to find them so that they can access them if they need to. When the time comes to destroy important documents, it is always best to shred them in order to avoid the possibility of identity theft and to prevent others from learning confidential information about you.
Remember, most of these documents can be replicated or found somehow if you accidentally discard them, but that is not always the case. Additionally, the time it takes to find these documents, as well as the cost to replace them, can be devastating. If you are ever in doubt about whether to keep a specific type of paperwork, contact your estate planning attorney before you put it through the shredder.
Ask Kit Kat – Outer Banks Ospreys
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about ospreys in the Outer Banks of North Carolina?
Kit Kat: Well, this story is a pleasant one. Apparently, ospreys have been nesting near power lines along the Wright Memorial Bridge which crosses Currituck Sound in North Carolina for years. Of course, they like to perch high, and would make their nests on the power line poles or wooden platforms constructed by Dominion Energy that lie next to the bridge. When the platforms were rotting from age, Dominion Energy replaced the wooden platforms with aluminum ones. Experts weren’t sure how it would affect the ospreys, but apparently it hasn’t affected them much at all! There are four nests this year—an improvement over last year when there was only one on the aging, wooden platforms.
Ospreys are quite common in the area, and they provide good viewing for people on their way and back from the Outer Banks. Dominion Energy learned a long time ago that it made sense to help their avian friends, rather than fight them. So they decided to build nesting platforms for the ospreys on older, concrete poles which were no longer in use. This way their wings and feet would not destroy or interfere with power transmission, as sometimes previously happened.
Jill Hailey, an operations engineer for Dominion Energy, said the new aluminum platforms should last for decades. The platforms have to be quite substantial as nests can weigh up to 600 pounds. Ospreys mate for life and have a life span of about 20 years. While they winter in the Caribbean and Central and South America, they return year after year to the place of their birth, and so the cycle continues with a new babies each spring.
We are lucky to have such beautiful creatures in our midst. They are graceful and skillful hunters, catching fish every fourth attempt. Watching their comings and goings is pure delight! (Jeff Hampton, “Ospreys nesting on new aluminum platforms along Wright Memorial Bridge,” The Virginian-Pilot, May 3, 2018, p. 3)
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