If you have never done it before, acting as the executor or personal representative of an estate can be daunting. Knowing what is required and how the process works can make it easier and less stressful. An experienced probate attorney can let you know what to expect and ensure you gather all the documents you need to settle an estate.
As the executor or personal representative of an estate, you have a responsibility to ensure that the decedent’s assets and property are secure. The sooner you gather the proper documentation, the sooner you can open the estate and begin the probate process (if required). Depending on the circumstances, this may be a fairly simple or an extremely challenging task.
Important Documents for Settling an Estate
Although each situation is unique, there are some basic documents you will need to open and settle an estate. Having them in hand when you open the estate is ideal, but if you cannot find everything you need right away, it is usually still possible to move forward. If the person died without a will, it is best to consult an estate planning lawyer to find out the most effective way to settle the estate.
Documents an executor or personal representative should collect include:
- The names and contact information for everyone who is named as a beneficiary in the will
- Evidence of funeral expenses, such as receipts or invoices
- Medical bills
- Tax returns
- Checking and savings account statements
- Investment account documentation and statements
- Pension or retirement account information and statements
- Life insurance policies, including beneficiary information
- Deeds to any property owned by your loved one
- Titles to vehicles
- Appraisals of valuable items such as jewelry, real estate, and fine artn>
- Any unpaid bills, credit card statements, and invoices
You will also need certified copies of the death certificate to provide proof that your loved one passed and to have certain assets released. Funeral homes and crematoriums typically offer this service and can obtain multiple certified copies for a small fee. If you’re not sure which items should be appraised, a real property lawyer can help you determine which assets warrant appraisal.
How a Probate Lawyer Can Help
Even if you have a valid will and all required documentation, you may encounter roadblocks in the estate settlement process. Attorneys for wills and trusts are usually knowledgeable about probate and estate settlement issues that can arise. They can help you file the will and complete an Estate Information Sheet and Petition for Probate if necessary.
A lawyer can also advise you on the many tasks and responsibilities you assume as the personal representative of an estate. From creating an inventory of assets to paying debts and filing an inheritance tax return, there are multiple steps that must be completed to settle and close an estate. If any problems pop up, your attorney can help you sort them out and ensure the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries are protected.
Do you need help with creating a will or settling an estate? Our experienced team at Carosella & Associates can help.