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10 Essential Documents for Retirement

When planning for retirement, most people focus on saving, and rightly so. Having
enough money to fund your retirement dreams is a key element to any plan. Often
overlooked, however, is the importance of obtaining and organizing important
documents. The following are 10 essential documents you will need to successfully
navigate retirement.

Pension Paperwork

Defined benefit pensions have become less common over the years, but there are still
many people covered by them. If you have a pension at work, the details of the plan
will be spelled out in the plan’s Summary Plan Description. In addition, you should
receive an Individual Benefit Statement that details the specific benefits that you have
earned and are eligible for. Make sure to review those documents as you approach
retirement so that both you and your spouse have a good understanding of how much
income you can expect from the plan and what will happen to that income if the
primary pension holder dies. Also, the Department of Health and Human Services
offers help and advice to pension holders through its Pension Counseling and
Information Program. Visit for more information.

Beneficiary Designation Forms

Many accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s, annuities,
and insurance policies allow you to name a beneficiary who will receive those assets
when you die. Many people don’t realize that those designations take precedence over
their will, even if the will is more accurate and up to date. Because of this, it is
important to review the beneficiary designations on all your accounts (as well as those
of your aging parents if you are helping them with their finances) prior to retiring to
make sure that they accurately reflect your wishes. Meet with your financial adviser
and estate planning attorney to ensure that your designations not only pass property to
the correct people, but also minimize expense and taxes.

Documents Needed When Applying for Social Security

The Social Security Administration will need you to provide certain documents when
filing for retirement or survivor benefits. Documents they may request include your
Social Security card, a certified copy of your birth certificate, proof of citizenship if
you were not born in the U.S., military discharge papers, a copy of your marriage
license or divorce papers, and a copy of your W-2 form (or self-employment tax
return) for last year. Having these documents readily available will help speed the
process along.

Investment Paperwork

Most people’s assets are divided into many different types of accounts. Some may be
tax-deferred, others may not. Some might have restrictions or requirements on
withdrawals. Some, like annuities, might give you different options for turning the
account into a guaranteed income stream. When transitioning into retirement, it is
important to have current copies of your account statements as well as options or
restrictions associated with each account so you can craft a distribution strategy that
meets your needs while minimizing expense, hassle and taxes.

Health Care Paperwork

Your health benefits during retirement will likely come from multiple sources. Those
could include a former employer, Medicare, Medicaid, a Medicare supplement policy,
or a long-term care policy. Be sure to retain benefit summaries, contact information,
and policies associated with each. If you have not filed for Social Security benefits by
age 65, you will need to apply for Medicare. You can do this up to three months prior
to your 65th birthday. When applying, you will likely need to provide them with the
same documents mentioned earlier for Social Security applicants.

Home Inventory

Many house fires or burglaries occur when the homeowner is away. When you retire,
you will likely spend more time traveling or at a second home than you did during
your working years. Because of this, it is important to inventory the contents of your
home so that you can more easily make insurance claims and rebuild your life if the
unexpected happens.

Insurance Policies

Many retirees have life insurance policies in order to replace income in the event of a
death, as a vehicle to build cash value, or for estate planning purposes. Make sure to
have current copies of your policies as well as contact information for the insurance
company so you can easily access cash value during life or so that your heirs can
easily claim benefits if something happens to you.


Most people need a will, regardless of the size of their estate, to control the passing of
property at death. Another tool to accomplish this while at the same time avoiding
probate is a Revocable Living Trust. As you enter retirement, you should meet with
your attorney to put a plan in place that passes your property to the correct people,
designates the correct people to take charge, and minimizes expense, hassle and taxes.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finance and Health Care

A durable power of attorney for finance is a simple and inexpensive legal document
that authorizes a person you have chosen to step in and manage your day-to-day
financial decisions if you become incapacitated. Everyone needs this document to
provide for the ongoing management of their financial affairs if they cannot make
decisions for themselves.

Similar to the power of attorney for finance, the health care power of attorney is a
legal document that authorizes a person you have chosen to step in and make health
care decisions for you if you become incapacitated and can no longer speak for
yourself. You can also include a health care directive which provides written
instructions to your agent that communicates your wishes regarding the withholding
or withdrawal of certain life support equipment or medical procedures.

If you plan on moving to a different state when you retire, meet with your attorney to
make sure that your will, trust, and powers of attorney will be valid in your new state
of residence and make any necessary revisions.

Tax Returns

In many ways life becomes easier after you retire. Unfortunately, this is not the case
with your taxes. In fact, because your employer is no longer automatically
withholding from your paycheck, tracking and paying your taxes may become more
complicated. To make matters worse, different states tax income and spending
differently. Will you owe tax on Social Security? How about pension and annuity
income? How much should you withhold from IRA distributions? The short answer is
“It depends.”

Because of this you should work closely with a trusted tax adviser, or the tax advisors
at Century Financial, and then maintain your tax returns and supporting documents for
seven years. The IRS can look back three years for basic errors and six if you
underestimated income by more than 25 percent.

As you can see, obtaining, understanding, and organizing your key documents will not
only help you to make informed decisions, but will also facilitate a smooth transition into a rewarding and meaningful retirement.