Ask LH: How Long Do I Need To Keep My Dead Dad’s Tax Records?

Dear Lifehacker, How long is it necessary to keep documents for deceased relatives? My father has been dead for years, but I still have boxes and boxes of his tax papers that I’m not sure what to do with? Thanks, Barbara

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Dear Barbara,

Before we begin, the usual caveats about us not being lawyers apply. For a comprehensive assessment of financial rules in Australia, you’ll need to speak to a tax professional.

In Australia, any outstanding tax matters are generally completed shortly after the time of death by the executor or trustee of the will. This generally involves notifying the ATO that the person has died and filling out their final tax return. (It’s actually pretty depressing when you think about it — taxes continue to endure even after death.)

If this all happened a long time ago, you should be in the clear. If the ATO was planning to sniff around your father’s estate for some reason, it surely would have done so by now.

With that said, it’s obviously a good idea to hold onto all tax-related documents for a minimum of five years — by law, this is how long you are required to keep business records from the date a tax return was lodged. While we couldn’t find a definitive answer on the ATO website for deceased persons, this presumably holds true whether you’re dead or alive. (If any accountants are reading, do let us know in the comments.)

Before you get the shredder out, it might be worth going over their financial records one last time: there’s an outside chance that there could be some superannuation or life insurance details that you weren’t previously aware of. Also, you may want to digitise the documents and stick them on an encrypted thumb drive — that way you get rid of the clutter but still have the records if you need them.


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