Estate Documents: More Than Just A Last Will And Testament

Law Blog

After a loved one's passing, gathering up important documents is a common task. In some cases, the next of kin take over this job, but this important action could rest with almost anyone. It might be helpful to get an idea of what to expect and what is meant by estate documents. Read on so that you and others are prepared to gather important papers after a death.

The Last Will and Testament

When most people think about estate documents, this is what comes to mind. A will is, without a doubt, the oldest known example of an estate document. After death, this is the document that often must be located first because so many people include their funeral and burial wishes in their will. Wills must be probated unless the deceased had an extremely small estate. Even if no will is found, the estate must go through probate. Probate is the legal manner of dealing with the debts and property of the deceased.

Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

Trusts have become increasingly popular estate documents, and it's easy to see why. Trusts don't have to be probated and that means that estate property can be handed over to beneficiaries much sooner. Just as a will has an executor (or personal representative) to oversee it, trusts have a trustee who is responsible for making sure that the trust is followed.

Insurance Policies

The third most important estate document might the insurance policy. Not because of a beneficiary that may now inherit money but because some families use some or all of a life insurance policy to pay for the funeral and burial. Also, some plan out their burial and prepay for it using a burial policy plan.

Other Estate Documents to Gather

Along with the main three documents above, the below will be useful as you settle the affairs of the deceased:

  • Deeds to the home and any other real estate holdings
  • Titles to vehicles, boats, and other motorized vehicles
  • Bank account location and numbers — checking, savings, and others
  • Investment account locations and number
  • Most recent tax return

Making Contact With the Estate Lawyer

Wills and other estate paperwork can be found in a variety of places. Search in desks, home safes, and files before you check the bank safe deposit box. After the death, loved ones should plan on having the probate or estate lawyer file the will in the county probate court. In most cases, they can also provide copies of the will and more. Speak with your estate or probate lawyer to find out more about estate planning.


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