After a death, there are many legal details to hammer out. While it is not necessary to get a lawyer, it is strongly recommended. The time following a death of a loved one is extremely emotional, and even the closest family will have disagreements over the most trivial matters.
Before getting in touch with a lawyer there are several important documents that you need to gather and those include:
If there is a Will, notify the Personal Representative named in the Will (and the Trustee, if named in a Trust) right away. The Personal Representative is responsible for taking care of the deceased’s estate and for following the terms of the Will, while the Trustee is responsible for managing the Trust. Sometimes the Personal Representative is called the “Executor” or “Executrix”.
Deeds, Titles, and Promissory Notes / Loans
- Real Estate Property deeds (including any recent appraisals)
- Mortgage documents (including promissory/loan notes)
- Other Promissory or Loan notes (including loans owed to the deceased)
- Vehicle titles and registrations (car, boat, RV, etc.)
- Membership certificates
Bank Statements – Including most recent statements for all accounts and the list of Beneficiaries, if any.
- Bank accounts – checking, savings, CD’s, etc.
- Investment/brokerage accounts, IRAs, 401ks, etc.
- Stocks and bonds
- Credit and debit card accounts
- User names and passwords for any online accounts
- List of safety deposit boxes, where to find keys, and names of authorized users
Other Financial Records
- Survivor annuity benefit papers
- Employer/retirement benefit (pension) plans, pension/profit-sharing plans, etc.
- Veterans’ benefit records
- Disability payment documents (State, Veterans’, etc.)
- Income statements for the current year (Social Security, pension, IRA’s, annuities, employment, and other income records)
- IRS income tax returns (for the current and previous year)
- IRS gift tax returns (for all years)
- Property tax records and statements
- Business interests held, financial statements and agreements, contracts, etc.
- Loan papers
- Other – investment records, etc.
- Life insurance (including premium payment records)
- Accidental life insurance
- Veterans’ insurance
- Employers or pension insurance
- Funeral insurance (or other death-related benefit plans)
- Mortgage and/or credit insurance
- Credit card insurance (for balances)
- Health insurance (including Medicare or Medicaid, “Medigap” insurance, private health insurance, dental, and Long Term Care insurance)
- Property insurance (homeowners/renters insurance, car insurance, etc.)
- Workers’ compensation insurance (and payment records)
- Will and/or Trusts
- Deceased’s Final Instructions, Disposition Authorization, and/or Designated Agent forms (sometimes included in an Advance Directive such as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, or in a Living Will)
- Pre-paid funeral contracts
- Organ/tissue donation record
- Social Security card (or number)
- Birth certificates (of all family members)
- Marriage license or certificate
- Military service papers, including discharge records
- Domestic Partnership Registration
- Court documents for adoptions and divorce (including any property settlement agreements, name changes, prenuptial agreements, etc.)
- Community Property Agreements
- Driver’s license
- Passport, citizenship, immigration and/or alien registration papers
- Names and contact information of closest family and friends
- Names and contact information of all lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc.
- Family Tree, if available (especially if there is no Will)
- User names and passwords for online accounts (including email accounts, financial records, social media accounts, etc.)
- Passwords to access computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices