Dear Liz: After a spouse’s death, I am wondering if there is some guidance on how long to keep items such as a driver’s license, Social Security card, Medicare and health plan card, passport, veteran’s information and so on. I haven’t seen this addressed in your column.
Answer: Guidance about what to keep and discard after a death can vary widely, so you may want to ask your estate attorney for help. In general, though, you can begin to dispose of many documents three years after the estate is settled, said Jennifer Sawday, an estate planning attorney in Long Beach.
In some cases, you can shred them sooner. Social Security numbers are often printed on the death certificate, so the card can be shredded once you verify the number on the certificate is accurate, Sawday said. You also may wish to shred the passport as soon as possible to avoid it falling into the hands of an identity thief. Another option is to mark the passport “void” and keep it as a family history item, she says.
The driver’s license is another possible family history item — and boon to an identity thief — but it can be discarded at the three-year point, Sawday said. Veteran’s information can be kept for family history purposes or discarded three years after any death VA benefits are claimed.
Medicare and health plan cards should be kept in case any medical billing issues arise and then discarded when those issues, if any, are resolved, she said.
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