Important Papers to Locate After Someone Dies

After someone dies, family members will need to locate all of the decedent's important papers.  It will give family members and, if necessary, the estate attorney assisting the family with settling the decedent's final affairs, all of the pertinent information needed to complete probate or the trust settlement process.

Below is the list of documents that are needed to settle an estate or trust. Copies of the documents are fine unless otherwise noted.

Asset information

Financial advisor with senior couple going over paperwork
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Copies or originals of the following documents will be needed:

  1. Account Statements - Including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s and annuities) for at least a few months prior to death.
  2. Life Insurance Policies - Note that for some older policies the insurance company will require the return of the original policy.
  3. Beneficiary Designations - For life insurance, retirement accounts, payable on death accounts and transfer on death accounts.
  4. Deeds for Real Estate - There is a common misconception that the original deed is needed, but a copy is fine.
  5. Automobile and Boat Titles - The original titles will be required to transfer legal title.
  6. Stock and Bond Certificates - For stocks or bonds held in certificate form, the original certificate will be required to transfer legal title.

Closely-Held Business Documents

If the decedent owned a closely-held business, then copies or originals of the following documents will be needed:

  1. Corporate, LLC or Partnership Documents - This includes copies of the corporate charter or articles of organization and minutes; a copy of the shareholder's agreement, operating agreement, or partnership agreement; minutes documenting meetings and decisions; and original stock or LLC certificates to transfer legal title.
  2. Account Statements - Including bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and retirement accounts for at least a few months prior to death.
  3. Automobile and Boat Titles - The original titles will be required if legal title will be transferred.
  4. Contracts - Including leases, loans, and employment agreements.
  5. Business Licenses - Including local and state licenses.
  6. Income Tax Returns - Federal and state returns for the past three years.

Contracts

Copies or originals of the following contracts will be needed:

  1. Prenuptial Agreements - Including any amendments.
  2. Postnuptial Agreements - Including any amendments.
  3. Loans - Including personal loans, lines of credit, and mortgages, along with the original promissory notes.
  4. Leases - Including real estate and automobile leases.

Bills

Copies of the following bills will be needed:

  1. Utility Bills
  2. Cell Phone Bills
  3. Credit Card Bills
  4. Mortgages and Personal Loans - including lines of credit
  5. Real Estate Tax Bills
  6. Storage Unit Bills
  7. Medical Bills
  8. Funeral Bill

Estate Planning Documents

If the decedent had an estate plan, then copies or originals of the following documents will be needed:

  1. Last Will and Testament and Codicil(s) - The original will and codicils will be required because if an original cannot be found, then it is presumed the decedent destroyed them,
  2. Revocable Living Trust and Amendment(s) - Usually a copy of the trust or amendment is all that is required.

Tax Returns

Copies of the following tax returns will be needed:

  1. Income Tax Returns - federal and state for the past three years
  2. Gift Tax Returns - federal and state

Death Certificates

Multiple, original death certificates will be required to settle the decedent's final affairs. I recommend ordering a minimum of ten.

Steps to Take After Someone Dies