Estate documents your heirs need – and where to keep them
by Mandy Hicks
By Elizabeth J. McKinney, Attorney
English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley, LLP
When someone dies, there’s lots to do. It’s not quite as hurried as most think it is, but usually, within a week of the funeral, the heirs are starting the process of handling all of the paperwork that needs to be handled.
You can make this all much easier by getting together a packet of information for the executor of your estate and the attorney and professional advisor who has worked with you in making your estate plans. It’s best to start this process long before you think you need to do so, and to let your friends and family know where the documents are.
We’ve listed them in order of importance. As for where you should keep these, we’d divide this into two packets: documents needed for your funeral planning, and documents needed for legal purposes. Anything needed for legal purposes you’ll want to keep in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box, and make sure your heirs and executors know where the keys are kept.
- Your will, trust or other legal documents that pertain to your estate. The original document, with your original signature, will be needed by the courts and your heirs to start the process. A copy is not good enough, but we do recommend keeping a copy with you at home. You can refer to the copy as you make your plans to ensure everything is as you want it and to make sure nothing has changed. This should go in your safe deposit box.
- Insurance policies. If you have life insurance or some kind of death benefit available to your family, the paperwork on this will help guide your executor as they pursue the claim. The policy itself will tell them what company to call, what to have handy and what is needed to make the claim. This should also go in the safe deposit box, but keep a copy of this at home, too. If you have it, a copy of the signed paperwork when you got the policy would be great to have in case there is some question.
- Deed to your home, title to your car, deed to a condo or second home. Any legal paperwork that indicates you own something should also go in your safe deposit box. This paperwork is all originals, and again, you can keep a copy at home for your reference.
- Funeral and burial instructions. Do you own burial plots? Where? Do you have a deed that shows that you own them? Do you want to have your service at a particular church or funeral home? Do you want a certain hymn sung? Write all of it down. In the case of the burial plots, the deed should be an original and you should store it in a safe deposit box. Your funeral instructions should probably stay at home, but you could add a copy to your safe deposit box and also let your clergy person know of your wishes.
- Bank statements. Your executor will need to know which banks hold your accounts and approximately how much money is in the accounts. These can be copies.
- Retirement and investment account information. Your executor will need to know where this money is and can begin the process of claiming it. These can be copies.
- Military ID and discharge paperwork. If you served in the Armed Forces, particularly during a war, your family may be entitled to benefits. That original paperwork is crucial to making those claims, so keep that in a safe place. The safe deposit box is the best place.
This is a short list – there’s lots more you can probably add to it. But this will get you started. The key with this is communication. Your executor should know where this packet of information is and you should go through it with them and discuss it. The clearer you are with your wishes the more likely those wishes will be followed.