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Important Documents: What to Save and What to Toss

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Even in this age of digitized documents and cloud-based storage, most of us still have way too many pieces of paper floating around our homes. If you participate in life as most adults know it, as in paying taxes, owning or renting a home, driving a car, using credit cards…you will have paper. Lots of paper.

The good news is that many of these documents can be dealt with easily. The junk mail, of which there is a never-ending flow, can be recycled. Many companies let you opt for “paperless” online accounts. Then there are the docs like your tax returns that need to be kept for a certain amount of time.

But what about the really important papers? The ones that are needed for, or generated from, major life events — like buying a house, having or adopting a baby, or changing your name. Do you scan those and store in the cloud or should you keep physical copies?

It can be overwhelming and confusing to figure out which papers fall into which category. Mistakenly shredding a document only to discover that you urgently need it to complete an important transaction, is the stuff of nightmares.

In this article, we unpack exactly what to do with all the documents — the really important, the somewhat important, and those that merely clutter up your home.

Keep Hard Copies Indefinitely

Typically, you should keep hard copies of any documents related to state or federal issues, for example, deeds, licenses, or certifications. You never know when you’ll need to get hold of them quickly, so it’s a good idea to a) know where they’re stored and b) be able to access them easily. You do not want to lose these because getting replacement copies can be a lengthy and frustrating process.

  • Passports and ID cards
  • Green cards and naturalization papers
  • Property docs – mortgage, deeds, bills of sale
  • Vehicle titles, registration, and loan documents
  • Marriage license/Divorce finalization
  • Birth and death certificates
  • Adoption papers
  • Social security cards
  • Retirement/pension plan documents
  • Business license
  • Wills and living wills

Depending on who you’re insured with, you could add insurance documents to the “keep forever” list. However, Wawanesa members can use our handy online portal to keep all your policy docs in one place. This not only keeps everything secure and reduces paper clutter in your home office but makes managing your account easy too. You can make payments, print ID cards, and see your policy information 24/7.

Retain Physical Copies for a Time

These docs are still important, but you don’t need to hold on to them forever.

  • Social security statements (keep the most recent version)
  • Home purchase, sale, or improvement documents (keep for a minimum of six years)
  • Warranty docs and receipts (keep as long as you own the item)
  • Tax records and receipts (keep for seven years)
  • Pay stubs and bank statements (keep for a year)
  • Annual insurance policy statements (keep the most recent version)
  • Medical records and bills (keep at least one year in case of disputes)
  • Retirement plan statements (401(k), 529, IRA, etc.) (keep the most recent version)

Of the items listed in the two categories above, many can be stored electronically. But document safety isn’t 100 percent guaranteed this way either. So, if you’re thinking about keeping certain docs in the cloud, consider how difficult it would be to replace them if anything happened. A good rule of thumb is, if you’re not sure, keep a hard copy.

Think about the degree of difficulty involved if you ever did need a physical copy of some crucial piece of paper. Post-pandemic, we’ve all experienced how difficult it can be to complete even straightforward tasks due to government offices and other businesses being closed.

Ready, Set, De-clutter!

Now you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The piles of paper covering the surfaces of your home are diminishing. For the hard copies, you’ve purchased sturdy fire-proof and waterproof storage containers that will keep your important papers safe. You want to avoid stashing those in a cardboard or even plastic box due to the potential for fire and water damage.

Now, you should be looking at two piles — one for shredding and one for recycling. It’s worth investing in a good shredder. Identity theft is such a big problem these days, you want to destroy anything that shows your name, address, and other sensitive information like bank account details or social security number.

And now you’re down to flyers, circulars, and special offers. This is the easiest part. If you set up a regular weekly or monthly schedule to sort your incoming mail, you’ll be able to keep the torrent under control. And you can now rest easy knowing everything is where it should be, and important papers are protected.

To take your new-found sense of security a step further, get in touch with a Wawanesa agent to make sure your home or renters insurance policy is giving you the protection you need to keep your home and belongings safe.

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The above content is for informational purposes only and is not a direct representation of coverages offered by Wawanesa or its policies. The information does not refer to any specific contract of insurance and does not modify any definitions, provisions, exclusions or limitations expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. All references within the above content are illustrative and may not apply to your situation. The terms and conditions of the actual insurance policy or policies involved in a claim are determinative as to whether an accident or other loss is covered. To understand the coverage under your current policy, please log into the account management platform to review your policy or contact an agent directly.