Keeping Important Documents

ACTION: Adapting CANSAS to Individuals’ Own Needs                                                 Recovery Conversation Theme #1: Housing and Home 


By Warren Heggarty 

We recently heard a story about how two people went in search of the will from a recently deceased family member. This late family member had been very fastidious and insisted on keeping EVERY bill and every important letter that had come to the house since the 1960s. That included everything from the deeds of the family home to a pile of Television rental accounts! They ended up finding the Will all right –not to mention a few other important documents- but they had had to make a day of it! When the dust (literally) settled, there was quite a bit of paperwork to be recycled. 

This sort of experience can make you a little worried about throwing out documents. So what documents does an individual REALLY need to hang onto? For most documents, there are not really any hard and fast rules about how long to keep them. With some (like Tax documents) we can be guided by legal requirements, but everyone’s circumstances are different and we usually have to make our own decision about when to turf things. 

Why keep things at all? 

Documents like the title deeds of a house, wills and insurance policies and other contracts should be kept in a safe place while they are in force, which in some cases might be forever! 

According to the Australian Tax Office (ATO) Keeping good records helps you and your tax adviser to provide written evidence that ensures you are able to claim all your entitlements. It helps reduce the risk of disputes and avoids ‘exposure to penalties.’ 

Generally, the ATO says, you must keep your written evidence for five years from the date you lodge your tax return-sometimes longer in the case of dispute settlements and so forth. Full information is available on the ATO’s web site. (ATO) 

Some sources still advise you keep documents for seven years (probably due to the legal statute of limitations). 

The only reason for keeping old bills is if you want to compare them over a period of time for budgeting, or if there is a dispute with the supplier. Other than that, old bills may well be cluttering your place up, especially if you have retained the newsletters and special offer flyers that came with them. The digital age means less paper… although sometimes It’s hard to believe. 

Receipts for large purchases should be kept until the warranty runs out (unless tax is involved in which case it is five years). 

Old Stuff 

These days, instruction manuals for electronic equipment are usually on line. If you are hanging on to an instruction manual for a 1976 monophonic cassette player, you probably don’t need to hang onto it. Unless you still have the cassette player, in which case it probably still works and will be of great value to someone who has a cassette collection. 

Some medical records might be useful to keep, especially if you have had major procedures or have a chronic condition that could recur. Receipts and accounts and old appointment cards are no longer useful! 

Keep records relating to your car for reference for a couple of years after you have disposed of the car. You can claim on your insurance even though the period of coverage has passed. This means that if someone makes a claim against you for an incident that has happened in the past, you can still claim this against your policy for that year. 

It’s online 

Bank statements are really unnecessary because you can look up all your transactions via net banking. Superannuation statements are really in the same category as bank statements. Keeping the hard copy is really doubling up on what is already available on line. Paper pay slips also cause clutter. According to Jane of Sort This there is no point keeping pay slips beyond seven years because you can’t make claims beyond that time due to the statue of limitations. Flourish Australia, of course, has been using electronic pay advice and group certificates for several years now. 

Carly Jacobs of au recommends you throw out your old university text books and ‘sub-par’ assignments (Jacobs, 2016). If you were a good student however, you still read your old texts for pleasure and you are keeping your High Distinction essays to show your grandkids, aren’t you? They will MARVEL at how assignments were done on paper in the old days. 


ATO. (n.d.). Keeping your tax records. Retrieved November 26, 2018, from Australian Taxation Office 

Jacobs, C. (2016, July 7). 9 Types of paperwork you need to throw away. Retrieved from Real Commercial

Jane from Sort This. (n.d.). How long should I keep papers. Retrieved November 26, 2018, from Sort This 

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