Certain papers very important this time of year

This is the time of year we go through those stacks of papers to find critical receipts, bank statements and tax returns, and then wonder what we need to keep.

A handy chart can help guide you on what to keep and for how long (www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/how-long-to-keep-financial-records.aspx).

After you finish with those stacks of paper, it is an excellent time to check for and update personal documents – things such as updating a basic property inventory as well those necessary written end-of-life documents. Whether you are 19 or 79 years old, what you have (or have not) told your family and friends as to what to do about your possessions (including your body or who should take care of your children) is useless. If it is not written down, it does not exist. Absolutely everyone possesses something – the very simplest might be your body and legal identity, though most of us have something more.

What excuses will you use this time? Don’t have time, too expensive to hire an attorney, too hard to talk with family about that stuff? ... Seriously?

Here are the basics. Within the last five years have you reviewed things such as who has the written authority to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so (medical power of attorney), who will take care of your finances until you are able again (power of attorney); last wishes that include digital assets, passwords and small items that you want to go to specific individuals? You have something that needs to be dealt with even if you think you own nothing – what to do if you’re unconscious, do you want to be cremated, etc. Even your “identity” has significant value – to scammers as well.

Have you seen the IRS “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2013”? Now even your refund is at risk. Identity theft scammers just need your name and Social Security number to file taxes and receive your refund. Last year, 3,000 IRS employees stopped $20 billion of fraudulent refunds; they anticipate more this year. If you have ever had anything stolen (purse, car, anything) you know how time-consuming, costly and frustrating this can be. Now add that layer of large government entity.

The next most common tax scam is phishing – an information request under the guise of the IRS by mail, email or text mail. Know that the IRS never requests information by email or phone. If you receive an unsolicited request that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

The third most common attempt is the “tax preparer.” Many people use helpers or tax-preparing services to complete documents. There are now instances of fraud by people posing as preparers. Choose carefully when having an individual or firm help with your tax documents. Use only preparers who sign your return as well their specific IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers, or PTINs. For details about preparer qualifications and when to make a complaint, IRS provides information at www.irs.gov/chooseataxpro. There are also a number of tax scams involving Social Security, such as luring the unsuspecting with promises of nonexistent Social Security refunds or rebates.

Think, use caution and be prepared.

ricekw@co.laplata.co.us or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.

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