After a loved one dies, you need to gather the important documents that are necessary to settle their final affairs. While the documents required will vary depending on what your loved one owned and owed, below is a list of common documents you will need to find:
Account statements – These may include bank statements and investment account statements (including brokerage accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, annuities, pensions, and health savings accounts). The closer to the date of death that the statement is dated, the better.
Life insurance policies – If you are not sure if your loved one owned any life insurance, check their bank account ledger for checks written to a life insurance company. Because some people choose to pay life insurance premiums on an annual basis, rather than a monthly basis, you might need to look back some time in the check register. If your loved one was employed at the time of death or worked for a large corporation, a local or state government, or the federal government prior to retiring, check with their employer or former employer to determine if your loved one had any employer-provided or government-provided life insurance benefits. If your loved one served in the U.S. military, check with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to find out if your loved one had any military-based life insurance benefits.
Beneficiary designations – These may include beneficiary designations for life insurance, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, annuities), payable on death accounts, transfer on death accounts, and health savings accounts.
Deeds for real estate – If you are unable to locate the original deed, many states now allow you to view and print deeds online. Note that you will not need the original deed to sell the property.
Automobile and boat titles – If you are unable to locate the original title, a duplicate original can be ordered from the department of motor vehicles. Alternatively, some states will allow the transfer of a vehicle title without the original for an additional fee.
Stock and bond certificates – This may include corporate certificates, local and state bonds, and U.S. savings bonds. If you are unable to locate an original certificate, a lost certificate affidavit can be filed by the deceased person’s legal representative.
Business documents – If your loved one owned a small business, then you will need to locate all of their business-related documents, including bank and investment statements, corporate records, income tax returns, business licenses, deeds for real estate, loan documents, contracts, utility bills, and employee records.
Bills – This will include utilities (electric, gas, water, sewer, garbage), cell phones, credit cards, personal loans, property taxes, insurance (real estate, automobile, boat), storage units, medical bills, and the funeral bill. Check their checkbook for bills that were paid during the past year.
Estate planning documents – This may include a Last Will and Testament, any Codicil(s) to the will, a Revocable Living Trust, and any Amendment(s) to the trust.
Other legal documents – This may include a Prenuptial Agreement and any Amendment(s), a Postnuptial Agreement and any Amendment(s), leases (real estate, automobile), and loan documents (personal loans, mortgages, lines of credit).
Tax returns – This should include gift tax returns and the past three years of state and federal income tax returns.
Death certificate – It is a good idea to order at least ten (10) original death certificates so that you do not have to keep ordering more.
As you can see, a significant amount of paperwork is involved. For even a small estate, you should set up a filing system for the deceased loved one’s affairs. This can help ensure that nothing gets missed and that administration costs can be minimized.