Estate Paperwork Explained

If you have been appointed to be the personal representative (or executor) of an estate, knowing about the associated paperwork can help you get an idea of what is expected of you. The below documents are ones that you will need to locate and ones that you will be utilizing as you administer the estate of the deceased.

The Documents Needed to Deal With an Estate

1. The funeral plan or a life insurance policy. In some cases, the deceased has already made plans to cover the funeral and burial by paying for it directly with the funeral home. They should have a copy of the plan, but try to locate it in the home or in the safe deposit box. In the event of no preplan, you should know that locating funds to pay for the funeral and burial are one of the first big responsibilities of the personal representative. In most cases, this is accomplished by presenting a life insurance policy that can be used for this purpose. If need be, you are authorized to sell an asset to pay for this expense.

2. The last will and testament. This document sometimes contains burial and funeral wishes, so should be located as soon as possible. Often, it can be found in a secure location like a safe or the safe deposit box. It is not necessary to read the will prior to the funeral but should be done soon afterward since it will need to be filed with the probate court.

3. Trusts. Increasingly, people are supplementing their wills with trusts. These legal instruments share some strong similarities to a will, but knowing the differences is important. For example, any property addressed in a will that is also addressed in a trust will follow the edicts of the trust. There will be a separately named administrator of the trust, known as the trustee.

4. Bank safe deposit boxes. A good source of all sorts of important paperwork, this box can often also contain assets of the estate. For example, the box might have family jewelry, stocks and bonds and even cash in it. Since it is one of the duties of the personal representative to distribute the assets of the estate according to the will, you should assess this box as soon as possible.

5. Other assets of the estate. This includes things such as deeds and titles will need to be located since the names on them will change reflecting their new ownership. Banking, retirement, savings and investment account paperwork should lead you to more assets of the estate.

6. Recent tax returns. You will be responsible for filing the final tax return for the estate, and you will also need to ascertain whether or not any federal, state or property taxes are owed. Usually, all taxes owed must be satisfied before the estate can process fully through probate.

7. Death certificates. Several certified copies, in fact, will be needed, so order enough and do so as soon as possible. It can take a few weeks to have these important documents ready, and they will be needed for the Social Security Administration, Medicaid/Medicare, the bank, creditors and more.

Speak to an estate attorney to learn more about estate planning.