What are the first steps in settling a loved one’s estate? Whether the foundation of your loved one’s estate plan was a will or a trust, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with a probate attorney relatively soon after the death – within a few weeks, if possible. And, you’ll want to gather the following paperwork to take with you to the appointment.
- Estate Planning Documents: If there’s a will, you’ll need the original, plus any original codicils. If there’s a trust, a copy of the trust agreement plus any amendments will be sufficient.
- Deeds: For each piece of real estate your loved one owned, either individually or jointly, you’ll need a copy of the deed.
- Vehicle Titles: You’ll need the original title for any car or boat owned by your loved one.
- Banking and Investment Statements: You’ll need statements from each bank account, brokerage account, and retirement account, going back three months prior to death.
- Life Insurance Policies
- Beneficiary Designations: Your loved one may have designated beneficiaries for one or more life insurance policies, retirement or investment accounts, or bank accounts. If so, you’ll need copies of the forms confirming these designations.
- Loan Documents
- Contracts, Including Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
- Bills: You’ll need copies of household utility and property tax bills; credit card bills; final medical bills; and funeral bills.
- Stock or Bond Certificates
- Tax Returns: You’ll need copies of your loved one’s federal, state, and gift tax returns for the three years prior to death.
- Original Death Certificates: You’ll need several original death certificates. Your probate attorney can tell you exactly how many to order.
- Business Documents: If your loved one was a business owner, you’ll need to locate additional documents relating to the business. Your probate attorney can assist you in identifying which documents you’ll need.
These documents are important because they provide vital information about your loved one’s estate. They help your probate attorney determine which property is subject to probate and whether or not estate or gift taxes will be due, and they help you begin the process of settling the estate.