What Documents Do I Need When Someone Dies?

In a previous blog we discussed the new probate law changes that were about to happen in Massachusetts. The effective date of those changes has been pushed back to the end of March, 2012. Although the estate administration process itself is designed to be quite simpler going forward under the new Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, there will still be many details that will need to be tweaked by the courts and attorneys who appear there during initial implementation.

Regardless of the supposed ease of the new system, much work in still needed to be done by the Personal Representative (Executor) prior to the first meeting with the attorney. It can be extremely overwhelming to the surviving family members to figure out what items they need to gather. Below is a list of the kinds of paperwork needed after someone passes away to make this process less burdensome:

Asset Information:
Copies of the following documents will be needed:

  • Account Statements – including bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts for at least the three months prior to death
  • Life Insurance Policies – you can often obtain these directly from the company or life insurance agent if they can’t be located
  • Beneficiary Designation Forms – for life insurance, retirement accounts, and payable on death accounts
  • Deeds for Real Estate – copies are fine and can often be obtained electronically through the Registry of Deeds website
  • Automobile and Boat Titles – the originals will be needed to transfer legal title
  • Stock and Bond Certificates – for stocks or bonds held in certificate form, the original certificate will be needed to transfer legal title

Business Documents:
If the person who passed owned a business, then copies/originals of the following documents will be needed:

  • Corporate, LLC or Partnership Documents – this includes copies of the corporate charter or articles of organization and minutes; a copy of the shareholder’s agreement, operating agreement, or partnership agreement; and original stock or LLC certificates to transfer legal title
  • Account Statements – including bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts for at least the three months prior to death
  • Automobile and Boat Titles – the originals will be needed if legal title will be transferred
  • Contracts – including leases, loans, and employment agreements
  • Business Licenses – including local and state licenses
  • Income Tax Returns – past three years

Copies or originals of the following contracts will be needed:

  • Prenuptial Agreements – including any amendments
  • Postnuptial Agreements – including any amendments
  • Loans – including personal loans, lines of credit, and mortgages, along with the original promissory notes
  • Leases – including real estate and automobile leases

Copies of the following bills will be needed:

  • Utility Bills
  • Cell Phone Bills
  • Credit Card Bills
  • Mortgages and Personal Loans – including lines of credit
  • Real Estate Tax Bills
  • Storage Unit Bills
  • Medical Bills
  • Funeral Bill

Estate Planning Documents:
If the person who passed had an estate plan, then copies or originals of the following documents will be needed:

  • Revocable Living Trust and Any Amendments – often times a copy of the trust or amendment is all that’s usually needed
  • Last Will and Testament and Any Codicils – the originals will be required because if the originals can’t be found it could be presumed the decedent destroyed them, however if all beneficiaries/heirs-at-law agree a copy can be produced in Massachusetts

(NOTE: For clients of Vickstrom Law, copies, as well as the originals, of your estate planning documents are provided to you in your Document Binder.)

Tax Returns:
Copies of at least the last year of the following tax returns will be needed:

  • Federal Income Tax Returns
  • State Income Tax Returns
  • Gift Tax Returns

Death Certificates:
Multiple, original death certificates will be needed to settle the decedent’s affairs. We advise our clients to order at least ten.

Vickstrom Law handles matters in estate planning, elder law, guardianship law, and estate administration exclusively and serves the communities in and around Worcester County.  If you have just had someone pass away, we can assist you in the administration of your loved one’s estate.  Call our offices to schedule your free initial phone consultation with Attorney Kristina Vickstrom today at 508.757.3800.


Photo credit: triosmarteaux /cc by 2.0

Sources: Kavesh, Minor & Otis and Julie Garber, Esq.

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