Aaahhh … springtime! That wonderful time of year when the weather starts to warm up, days get longer, and we all take a deep breath. Yep … life is great. After all, for many folks the annual audit cycle is wrapped up and we are just right in between corporate and individual tax deadlines (without extensions, of course). Oh, the relief!!

Now we can start to put away all those records of the past and forget about them. But should we?

The answer is: “Not really.”

“Oh,no!! You mean we have to deal with records retention? How mundane of you!”

Well, the answer to that is a resounding “Yes!”

Records retention is an issue that affects us both as businesses and as individuals. It is important that you understand and actively manage the retention of your records. The road is littered with the cases of businesses that lacked good processes for managing the retention of their documents and electronic records, which ended up costing them in later lawsuits or other legal proceedings. Individuals run similar risks when it comes to tax audits or legal matters such as divorce or estate settlements. We could all do ourselves a favor by being sure we know as businesses or individuals what to save, what not to save, and how long to keep it.

For businesses records, management is not just about what to keep. It also is about what NOT to keep. It isn't necessarily wise to keep everything forever because you think it is good to have “just in case.” Keeping certain records for long periods can be just as bad as not having the records at all. Sometimes records that could have and should have been destroyed as a part of a routine and LEGAL records management program can become dangerous and very expensive if a lawsuit is filed and extensive discovery is involved.

So what to do … what to do?

Well, first: Do not ignore the issue of record retention and management because you think it really doesn't matter. And don't assume that it is someone else's job. Either take ownership or get a team together made up of legal, IT, financial, and even sales and other operational people to oversee records management. Effective supervision and oversight is critical to an effective records retention program that has a good chance of holding up should legal or other problems arise.

Be sure to develop a records retention policy and procedure system that people can follow. That means not just a list of retention periods but also instructions on how and where to store and how and when to destroy. Continuously monitor local, state, and federal regulations to be sure that your retention time frames meet ever-changing requirements. Define overall responsibilities for ongoing retention program management and execution. And, finally, be sure that you develop an understandable and maintainable system that is both efficient and effective for all.

It is a mundane task ... but it is time to get started and make records retention part of your spring-cleaning routine! ###

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