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How long do you need to save estate documents?

Any person who has administered an estate knows that, even in this digital age, the amount of paperwork can be overwhelming. Once the estate is settled, it can be tempting to shred all of the documents that have been taking up room in your filing cabinets, drawers or wherever you've stashed them. Not so fast.

Even if an estate has been settled, the Internal Revenue Service may have questions or issues years later. Generally, as long as all of the appropriate tax returns for the deceased person were filed correctly, the IRS isn't going to audit the estate after seven years have passed. However, you should still keep the tax returns. You may be able to shred the supporting documentation. It's always a good idea to scan it first so that you have a copy if you need it. A California estate planning attorney can advise you on that.

Another issue that may warrant hanging onto documents is the potential for contests to the will. In California, only certain people, generally those who would reasonably have been considered potential heirs or beneficiaries, can contest a will. They must be a valid reason for doing so, such as a later will or belief that there was undue influence or fraud involved in drafting or changing the will. There are statutes of limitations for will contests. Therefore, again, it's best to consult an attorney who's knowledgeable about California estate planning law.

If you were working with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney when you were administering the estate, distributing assets, paying creditors and handling taxes, the chances of anything coming back to haunt you years later are lower than if the estate wasn't properly settled. However, you should always consult with an attorney before destroying any documents related to the estate.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "How long should you keep paperwork about an estate?," Liz Weston, June 19, 2016

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