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Most people hold onto boxes full of financial records, tax returns and pay stubs they no longer need. And we don't always keep the records we do need.

Here are some guidelines, as well as a chart (below), on what to keep and for how long.

Estate-planning documents: keep your will, power of attorney, advance health-care directive ("living will") and health-care proxy.

Store them in a safe-deposit box with a reminder on your calendar to review every five years. If you make any changes, be sure to discard the outdated document and keep only the current version to avoid possible confusion. Make sure that the executor of your will and/or the person who holds your power of attorney knows the location of your safe-deposit box key.

Tax returns: Keep state and federal tax returns, as well as supporting documents, for seven years.

Paperwork on charitable donations: Keep for seven years. If you're ever audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you'll need a bank record (a cancelled check or credit card statement) or a written receipt from the charity that gives the name of the charity, the date of the gift and amount. For non-cash gifts, you must also keep a written receipt from the organization for seven years.

Stock certificates: Never hold them yourself...not even in a safe-deposit box. All certificates should be kept by a broker (i.e.: Schwab, Merrill, Fidelity, etc.). If you have paper certificates, contact your broker to arrange for transfer.

U.S. Savings Bonds: Convert them to electronic bonds at the U.S. Treasury or keep them in a safe-deposit box, with a list of serial numbers at home.

Cancelled checks: Keep for one year in most cases. Discard checks, check registers, check statements and credit card statements after a year. As noted previously, keep checks and credit card statements needed to support tax filings for seven years.

Loan-discharge notices: Keep "forever" in a safe-deposit box. When you sell your home, you may find that a previous lender failed to record that you paid off your mortgage. To avoid a big hassle, you'll need written proof.

Birth and death certificates, marriage license, military discharge papers, Social Security card and permanent life insurance policies: Keep these forever.

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The professionals of the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts seek to foster the value of financial planning and advance the financial planning profession in the Bay State. Their 900+ members are dedicated to the financial planning process, which entails establishing personal and financial goals and creating a way to reach them. FPA™MA believes that everyone needs objective advice to make smart financial decisions and that when seeking the advice of a financial planner, the planner should be a CFP® certificant. To learn more about FPA™MA and how to find a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, visit www.FPAMA.org or follow on Facebook (@Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts) or Twitter (@fpa_ma).

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