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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

Q: What information will my estate planning lawyer need?

New York and New Jersey estate planning attorneys know that one of the biggest reasons people put off having a comprehensive estate plan created is that they are afraid to face their own mortality. Nobody wants to talk about death, but having an estate plan is the best thing you can do for your family. Having everything organized and your legal affairs in order will make a devastating situation slightly easier on your loved ones than the chaos and additional expenses that will result if you die without doing so.

While your estate planning attorney will do the heavy lifting from a legal standpoint, they can’t do it without your help. Your job begins with getting all of your important paperwork together, completing a confidential client questionnaire form, and scheduling an appointment with one of our skilled attorneys.

Despite all we do financially online these days, there’s an awful lot of old-fashioned paperwork in most people’s lives as well. Gathering all your important records together so you can present your estate planning attorney with everything they need to know about your assets and liabilities is a good first step. Then you can decide what to do with all of the originals – save, store or shred them.

What should I do with all my important documents?

Important original documents that you rarely need to access but should store in a bank safety deposit box and never shred include items like: adoption or citizenship papers, military discharge or veteran’s papers, divorce decrees or lawsuits, and more.

Other important original documents that you sometimes need to access should be safeguarded but more conveniently located so you don’t have to run to the bank when you need them. Things that should be stored in a fire- and burglar-resistant safe at home and never be discarded include: birth, death, and marriage certificates, cemetery deeds and real estate deeds, Social Security cards, immunization and health records, medical directives, powers of attorney, trusts and current wills, passports and diplomas, and more.

Many documents would do well stored in either the safe or a locked filing cabinet because they often can be shredded at a certain future date. Examples of these documents include: college financial aid and other loan statements, employee contracts and benefits information, insurance policies, property tax assessments and more.

Tax documents should be stored in locked filing cabinets and discarded by shredding generally after seven years—but always check with your financial advisor first. These documents include banking credit card statements and canceled checks, home purchase and improvement records, and tax returns with supporting documents.

People can generally store investment documents like annuity contracts, loan agreements, pension plan documentation, real estate purchase and improvements records, and investment account statements in locked filing cabinets. And with the exception of pension plan documents which should never be discarded, financial advisors can advise when the other investment documents can be shredded.

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning attorneys at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all aspects of estate planning, estate administration, and real estate law.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.