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What Documents Do I Need When Someone Dies?

“After someone dies, family members will need to locate all of the decedent's important papers.” Then call your estate planning attorney to schedule a meeting. 

This is not a short list, and frankly, it isn’t riveting reading. However, if you have had a family member pass away, this is the information you and your estate planning attorney need to help settle the decedent’s final affairs. An even smarter approach would be to gather these materials before someone dies, but that doesn’t always happen. This useful article from The Balance, “Important Papers to Locate After Someone Dies,” will help, regardless of your family’s situation.

Asset Information:

  1. Account statements, including bank accounts, investments, and retirement accounts.

  2. Life insurance policies. You may be required to show the original documents.

  3. Beneficiary designations. This could include payable on death accounts and transfer on death accounts.

  4. Real estate deeds

  5. Titles for cars and boats

  6. Stock and bond certificates–if held in certificate forms.

Business Documents:

  1. Corporate, LLC or partnership documents

  2. Account statements

  3. Contracts

  4. Business licenses

  5. Income tax returns


  1. Pre- or post-nuptial agreements and amendments, if any

  2. Loans

  3. Leases


  1. Utilities, cell phone, credit card, storage unit bills

  2. Property tax and mortgage bills

  3. Lines of credit or any outstanding loans

  4. Medical bills

  5. Funeral bills

Estate Planning Documents:

  1. Last will and testament, plus codicil(s), if any

  2. Revocable living trust and amendment(s), if any

  3. Legacy letter, if there is one

Tax Returns

  1. Income tax returns – federal and state for the last three years

  2. Gift tax returns -federal and state

Death Certificates –

  1. You’ll need to order several from the funeral home

In addition to these documents, locate the decedent’s Social Security card and Medicare or Medicaid information.

It is a lot of information to gather, especially during a time of grief. Some people find this process cathartic, as they work through years of documents. Others may require help from another family member or a professional from their estate planning attorney’s office.

Reference: The Balance (Jan. 1, 2019) “Important Papers to Locate After Someone Dies”

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