Which records to keep and how long during one's lifetime depends on the type of record being considered.
See this page for guidelines: Organize Your Important Papers.
In regard to estate issues after someone's lifetime, you should keep the estate financial records 7 to 10 years or more from the time the estate was settled (not the date of death). It is necessary to keep records for this length of time because, if income on the estate was underreported by 25% or more and this comes to light, the IRS may assess additional taxes up to 6 years after the final filing.
With regard to selling property or investments (stocks, bonds, etc.) — which may have been part of the settling of the estate — you want to keep these records for 7 years. If there were any trusts established with proceeds from the estate, you want to keep pertinent records for 10 years after the age at which the youngest beneficiary may take full distribution of his or her share.
In the case of an ongoing trust, you would keep the records indefinitely, potentially for generations. Keep birth and death certificates forever; such records help not only in legal matters but also in any genealogical work your future generations may engage in.
Consulting an estate planning attorney and an accountant may help to clarify this answer further, based on your specific needs. Cooperative Extension educational information should not be used as a substitute for seeking sound legal advice.
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