The passing of a loved one is an emotional time, especially if the deceased was a parent. You are likely feeling overwhelmed, not only with your own emotions, but with the emotions of your siblings and other relatives and friends who are feeling the loss. While you certainly need time to mourn and to comfort your loved ones, there are also legal details to take care of.
Hopefully, your parent left everything in order, with detailed listings of assets and liabilities, easy-to-locate information and a carefully prepared estate plan. Your parent may even have a lawyer ready to jump in and handle the tedious matters of probate. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and you may be on your own to gather the critical documents you need to close out your loved one's estate.
What documents are important for probate?
If your parent prepared a will or trust, these are among the first documents you should find. Your parent may have stored these documents -- originals or copies -- in a safe deposit box, with an attorney or in a secure place in the house. These will be critical during the probate process. Probate is the court procedure that verifies your parent's last wishes, the ownership and value of the estate, and the identity of the heirs. To complete this process, you will need to assemble many papers, including these:
- Documentation about all your parent's personal assets, including bank accounts, retirement funds, life insurance, real estate deeds, vehicle titles and stock certificates
- Documents concerning business assets, including bank statements, brokerage statements, titles for business vehicles, employment contracts, leases and loans, licenses and tax returns
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements and any modifications
- All debts and bills, including auto loans or leases, mortgage and personal loans, credit cards and lines of credit, real estate taxes, utility and cell phone bills, and outstanding medical bills
- Bills related to funeral arrangements and final expenses
- Tax information, including three years of returns for Texas and federal income taxes, and gift tax returns
You will also need numerous copies of your loved one's death certificate. You will probably have to submit them to your parent's creditors, the credit reporting agency and perhaps the Social Security Administration if your loved one was receiving Social Security payments.
It may seem like a daunting task to locate and assemble so much paperwork. However, you can always seek help from an estate planning and probate attorney. These legal professionals have handled settlement issues for many estates, both simple and complex, so you can be confident in receiving solid advice and guidance.