Ask an Orange County Probate Lawyer: “My Mother Just Passed Away. What Paperwork Do I Need?”

Big stack of papers ,documents on the desk

After the loss of a loved one, there’s so much to do. You need to communicate with family members, plan the funeral, and begin the process of settling their estate.  As an Orange County probate lawyer, I can help you along these lines by giving you a list of important documents that you should gather to begin closing out his or her final affairs. The documents needed will vary depending on the person and their assets. As you start preparing, keep your eye out for the following:

  • Account statements – This may include bank statements, investment accounts, 401(k)s, IRAs, pensions, health savings accounts, annuities, and 403(b)s. It is best that these statements are dated as close to the date of death as possible.
  • Life insurance policies –If you are not sure if your loved one had a life insurance policy, check their bank statements to see if they were making payments to a life insurance company. Some people make their life insurance policy payments yearly instead of monthly. Also, if they were employed, you can check with their employer to see if they had a life insurance policy through their company. If they once served in the military, you should check with the Department of Veterans Affairs as well.
  • Beneficiary designations – These may include beneficiary designations for life insurance, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, annuities), payable on death accounts, transfer on death accounts, and health savings accounts.
  • Deeds for real estate – If the deeds are not available, many states will now allow you to view and print copies of deeds online.
  • Automobile and boat titles – If you cannot locate these, you can contact the department of motor vehicles.
  • Stock and bond certificates – Including cooperate certificates, local and state bonds.
  • Business documents – If your loved one owned a small business, it is important to locate important documents for the company as well. These may include bank and investment statements, corporate records, tax returns, business licenses, deeds for property, loan documents, contracts, bills, and employee records.
  • Bills – This will include utilities, cell phones, credit cards, personal loans, property taxes, insurance (real estate, automobile, boat), storage units, medical bills, and the funeral bill. Check their bank statements to see if the deceased was making regular payments to a company, and contact that company for copies of the bills.
  • Estate planning documents – Last Will and Testament, revocable living trust, etc.
  • Other legal documents – Prenuptial Agreement, Postnuptial Agreement, leases (real estate, automobile), and loan documents (personal loans, mortgages, lines of credit).
  • Tax returns – Both federal and state returns for the last 3 years.
  • Death certificate – It is advised to order at least 10 copies of the original death certificate so you don’t have to keep ordering them.

If you are overwhelmed and would like help in settling your parent’s affairs, feel free to call our Orange County probate lawyers at (949) 260-1400 and we can help you get through the process as quickly as possible.

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