How long should I keep income tax related papers to avoid prison

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Dear Annette,

I've been working on my income taxes, and my files are getting pretty big. How much of this stuff do I have to keep?

Form 1-too-many

Dear Form,

When I found out a few years ago that Dickie and I were going to prison for failing to pay taxes on three years' worth of his a income from selling cosmetics door-to-door, my first thoughts were, What should I pack? Will there be mints under my pillow? Will there be someone to do the floors and bath? And why does an undocumented Maltese owe taxes in the first place? (After all, he does have his shots.)

But I quickly realized incarceration was nothing I needed to fear. Prison, I learned, can be like grownup camp if you have the right People to arrange it for you. I quickly resolved to use the precious time away from it all to sort out some of those details that always seem to slip through the cracks. It was a time to get centered. To make the most of the experience, I had my attorney select a modern residence with game room, entertainment center, spa, and complete athletic facilities with meditation and yoga. I brought a few of my favorite books, but of course there was a lending library with Internet access. I kept a journal of the experience that was later released as a miniseries on a cable channel especially for women. And Dickie, of course, did a brisk business on the black market - although it was an ordeal to resell all those individual cigarettes once we made parole.

Who can blame you for wanting to clean off your desk? I used to keep all those little pieces of paper that were handed me every time I got something new, but who can be bothered? Besides, after a while all those receipts completely ruined the feng shui in my study - the paper element was interfering with the water element, and you know the water element is not negotiable.

If you'd rather stay on this side of the law, whether on principle or because you would prefer not to wear one of those darling electronic monitoring ankle bracelets (Dickie and I had matching ones made after our parole officer made us return the official ones), keep three years' worth of documentation. The rest you can throw away - unless you prefer to keep it for your biographer.

Stay fabulous,