There are a lot of good reasons to have a plan for keeping track of your important papers. If you’re meeting with a financial adviser or an attorney, it might take you an hour to prepare instead of a week. If there’s a fire, flood, or theft, you’ll be able to find essential documents without delay. If something happens to you, your loved ones will be able to readily locate your health-care power of attorney, insurance policies, medical records, and outstanding bills. Even on an everyday basis, good record-keeping makes it easier to pay bills on time, find receipts, and reduce tax-time anxiety.
Unfortunately, only 40 percent of Americans think they can find a document at a moment’s notice, and only 49 percent can do so with a little looking, according to a recent poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. And although 89 percent said they were extremely to fairly organized when it comes to their financial paperwork, nearly one-quarter had either lost or forgotten about an important financial document. Worse, 16 percent had lost money or incurred a charge because of their poor organization of paperwork. (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2010/03/conquer-the-paper-piles/index.htm)
The reason? Most homeowners, it turns out, have only a vague idea of what their homeowners insurance actually covers. Once a claim is filed, the insurance company will send over an independent adjuster to evaluate the claim. But these independent adjusters aren’t so independent. Their job is to represent the insurance company’s interests first, and yours second. After all, the insurance company is paying the independent adjuster. So when disaster strikes, it may very well be worth hiring a professional public adjuster as your advocate in an insurance claim. These adjusters specialize in combing over your damaged property and your homeowners policy, and they make sure the insurer doesn’t snake away from a valid claim. Public adjusters many times are veteran insurance company claims adjusters who know how insurance companies operate and have expertise in negotiating property claims to make sure you get the most out of your policy. (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1039442112630223993)
A home inventory is a comprehensive report which includes detailed descriptions and photos of the personal property in and around your home. While considered a key component in documenting insurance claims, a home inventory is also valuable for estate and financial planning.
If you were to step outside your home, could you list all the items you own? Even if you could list everything, would you be able to provide detailed information—including the purchase date, cost, model, and serial number—on the contents of your home? A home inventory ensures that homeowners are sufficiently prepared, in terms of their insurance coverage, to deal with potential losses. A detailed list of all the items destroyed, damaged, or stolen is required for an insurance claim. Proper documentation ensures a faster and smoother claims process, as well as maximizing your insurance reimbursement. In fact, you must provide documented proof of ownership to receive a settlement covering the full extent of the loss. According to the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, most policyholders do not realize that the burden of proof rests with them.
There are legal requirements for keeping certain records such as board minutes and tax returns. Board minutes are permanent records and need to be retained indefinitely. Tax returns can be audited up to three years from when they are filed. Because they are not filed until after the year is over, supporting documentation needs to be retained for four years.
Other records need to be retained for their informational value. Take, for example, the last roof replacement your HOA made: what were the specifications, the date of replacement, and the cost and warranty information? Maintenance history and repair records can help to determine when components should be replaced.
Some records need to be retained because of possible future board or legal actions. Say your HOA has a history of repeated rules violation by a resident which may lead to future board action, or a history of water intrusion problems which may lead to a construction defects legal action.
Architectural control records are particularly important. The board needs to be able to identify each architectural change that has ever been approved and, conversely, each change that has been denied, and it should maintain a history of violation notices. (http://www.echo-ca.org/article/hoa-record-keeping-your-filing-system-code#.dpuf)
Because paper, such as receipts, fades with time and takes up space, consider scanning and storing your documents on a flash drive, an external hard drive, or a cloud-based remote server. Even better, save your documents to at least two of these places. Digital copies are OK with the IRS as long as they’re identical to the originals and contain all the accurate information that was in the original receipts. You must be able to produce a hard copy if the IRS asks for one.
Tip: Tax season and year’s end are good times to purge files and toss what you no longer need; that’s often when the spirit of organization moves us.
When you do finally toss out your home-related paperwork, use a shredder. Throwing away intact documents with personal financial information puts you at risk for identity theft. (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/taxes-incentives/how-long-to-keep-tax-records/#ixzz3qYJaZu1U)
Homeowners should keep their documents as long as they own the house. Many long-time homeowners — despite the mortgage meltdown where property values often significantly decreased, have found their profit is above these limitations. Thus, every dollar that you add to basis creates a significant savings for you, and puts additional money in your pocket for retirement purposes, rather than have to pay it by way of capital gains tax. Items such as recording and transfer taxes, settlement and escrow costs, title insurance and legal fees, and real estate commissions are all legitimate items to be included in your computation of net gain. The best evidence of these expenses can be found in the settlement sheet – called a HUD-1 – when you bought your house. The main reasons to keep the following documents are for future reference meaning for your own review or in the event you need to file a claim, either against the seller, your professional representation team or contractors.