Q. I have read multiple places that some records, including divorce decrees and birth certificates, should be kept “indefinitely” after a person’s demise. Why? Of what value are these documents? I don’t really want to burden my step-children with their dad’s divorce decree from their mother who died over a decade ago, nor my children with my parent’s birth certificates, etc.   — Overwhelmed with paperwork

A. As you mention, just about any list that relates to the retention of important documents will include in the “keep it forever” category birth certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees.

They are immediately needed when an individual dies in order to obtain the information to complete the death certificate, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.

“In the case of a divorced individual, the final decree might be the only record that an individual was no longer married and there is a surviving ex-spouse,” she said. “The importance of the divorce decree could be a factor if a death occurs and no will was in place, it cannot be located or it was outdated.”

Retaining the divorce decree can help with settling the estate. Even though a death may have occurred some time ago, holding on to the divorce decrees until all parties have passed and their estates finalized may prevent a potential dispute from interrupting the probate process, Mott said.

As you noted, over the course of many generations, these documents can add up and be cumbersome to manage.

These days, the online storage of statements at banks, investment custodians, brokerage firms and credit card companies has made the task of keeping historical records far less cumbersome and much safer than having paper copies in one’s home, she said.

“While it may seem far fetched, there are instances of fraud that can take place involving birth and death certificates,” she said. “Having the original documents might enable an individual to provide the proof necessary to get an account closed that was opened fraudulently.”

Email your questions to Ask@NJMoneyHelp.com.


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