Estate Planning

Should I Shred Documents Of A Deceased Person? (5 Tips)

Larry Li


The newly deceased are primary targets for fraudsters and identity theft. Just because someone passes away doesn’t mean that their identity isn’t at risk of being stolen. As such, you should prevent your loved one’s sensitive documents from falling into the wrong hands. 

So should you shred documents of a deceased person?  Yes, you should shred all documents of a deceased person that contains sensitive information like account numbers, social security numbers, and passwords and pins.  However, the timing of when you shred these documents is important. You should keep tax documents for at least 7 years but shred mail offers immediately. 

Today’s in-depth guide covers what documents you should shred and how long you should wait before shredding them. 

Here’s a brief table of contents of what to expect in this guide:

  • How long to keep documents after a death

  • Documents to shred immediately

  • Documents to shred after 1 year

  • Documents to shred after 7 years

  • Documents to shred after 10 years

  • Documents to never shred

Why You Should Shred Documents After a Death

There is one crucial reason why you should consider shredding documents after a death: 

Identify Theft

With the increase in identity theft and the misuse of other people’s personal information, it’s more important than ever to shred your fallen loved one’s documents. In fact, fraudsters steal nearly 2.5 million American identities each year to open credit card accounts, apply for loans, and open cell phone plans.

Shredding non-crucial documents that contain sensitive information is the best way to prevent fraudsters from stealing your fallen loved one’s identity. It’s not uncommon for fraudsters to sift through garbage to look for compromised information. 

So, shredding your loved one's documents rather than throwing them away is the only way to guarantee the safety of your loved one’s identity. Furthermore, it can take years before fraud is flagged on a dead person’s file, letting fraudsters open credit accounts, loans, and file for tax returns. 

Whether or not your loved one had their paperwork organized, you must go through all of their documents and separate them based on when it’s acceptable to shred them. 

Let’s discuss how long to keep documents after a death. 

How Long to Keep Documents After a Death

Although keeping your deceased loved one’s identity safe is of the utmost importance, you shouldn’t immediately shred all the documents in your loved one’s file boxes. 

This is because we recommend keeping most estate papers for 7 to 10 years after a death. These documents include tax returns, property or investment sales records, and the estate’s bank statements and accounting records.

Nonetheless, you don’t have to hold on to all of the paperwork forever. Below, we explain how long you should store different types of documents after a death.

Here are five tips to follow when determining if you should shred the documents of a deceased loved one.

1. Documents to Shred Immediately

In general, you should shred unimportant documents that contain your loved one’s name and address. You should also shred documents with sensitive data, such as account numbers and credit card numbers.

Here’s what you can shred immediately:

  • Credit card and insurance offers

  • ATM receipts

  • Sales receipts

  • Paid utility bills

  • Expired warranties

  • Paid billing statements

Since the utility bills and billing statements are already paid, you won’t face any issues by shredding them immediately. For this reason, you should keep all documentation until something is paid or sold.

2. Documents to Shred After 1 Year

Documents you can shred after one year include non-tax-related bank and credit card statements, pay stubs, receipts for larger purchases, and investment statements. 

3. Documents to Shred After 7 Years

In most cases, you should keep your loved one’s financial documents for at least seven years following the death or seven years after you file any required estate taxes (whichever one is sooner). 

These documents include:

  • Account statements

  • Tax returns

  • Retirement benefits

  • Tax-related receipts

  • W2s

It’s important to hold on to these documents for at least three years in case the IRS decides to audit your deceased loved one. 

Although the IRS has three years to audit an individual’s tax return, it can extend up to six years if the IRS believes your loved one underreported their gross income by 25 percent or more.

4. Documents to Shred After 10 Years

Although medical records are typically stored electronically, it’s a good idea to request them from your fallen loved one’s medical provider. As a general rule of thumb, you should hold on to these medical records for about 10 years. 

As the personal representative or legal executor of the deceased person’s estate, you have the legal right to access and maintain your loved one’s medical records.

Here are the documents to keep safe for 10 years:

  • Health insurance cards

  • Medical tests

  • Prescriptions

  • Medical history

  • Hospital discharge papers

Keeping these documents can help you avoid paying unnecessary medical bills that are covered by insurance. Furthermore, you will also be able to see how your loved one’s doctors came to specific medical conclusions. 

5. Documents to Never Shred

You should keep most legal records of your loved one indefinitely. Legal records are any documents or files related to federal, state, or local law.

Some examples of documents to never shred include:

  • Birth certificate

  • Social Security card

  • Divorce decrees

  • Death certificates

  • Legal will

  • Marriage certificates and prenuptial agreements

  • Retirement plan documents

  • Insurance documents

What To Do With The Documents You Should Not Shred

After a loved one passes away, it can be easy to get swamped with paperwork and documents. 

Since there are several documents you should never shred, you need a safe place to keep them. Unless the documents are stored in a safety deposit box, they are always prone to theft, misplacement, and destruction.

It’s also difficult to share paper documents with those who need access. However, Trustworthy can make the post-death document management process much easier for you and your family.

Trustworthy is a family-oriented digital storage platform that stores and secures sensitive information like wills, trusts, bank accounts, passwords, and emergency planning documents. Since paper records get stolen or go missing all the time, Trustworthy ensures your family’s documents are always available from any location.

Therefore, even if you lose or shred an important document, you can always access the backup file on Trustworthy. In essence, Trustworthy offers the best solution for families that want to stay organized and efficient throughout life’s most uncertain moments. You can try a 2-week free trial here.