Where There's A Will There's Paperwork

Being appointed personal representative (or executor) of a will is both an honor and a big responsibility. Only the most trustworthy and capable friends and family members are given this privilege, and taking these duties seriously is vital. One inescapable aspect of dealing with estate matters is the paperwork. Just knowing what's ahead could help you be better prepared once the time comes, so read on for a basic primer on what kind of documentation to expect as you carry out your personal representative duties.

Prioritizing the Paperwork

Some documents and tasks take priority over others, and you will need to ensure that you gain access to certain items immediately after the death. The below listed documents are in order of likely need as well as some hints on where to find them, so place a top priority on the first few.

The Will: When it comes to estate paperwork, the will is the one document that likely comes to mind first. Since some wills contain burial instructions, make every effort to locate it before the funeral plans are made. If you are certain that burial arrangements are known, the reading of the will can be delayed, but it will be needed as soon as possible.

Where to find the will? These documents are considered important and at the same time confidential in nature, so you may not find the will as easily accessible as other paperwork. If you are the personal representative of the estate, then you can be fairly certain that a will does exist. In some cases, the will may be located in a locked box, drawer, or safe within the deceased's home. Some people use their bank safe deposit boxes as repositories for their will, and you will need a key to access that box. If all else fails, the estate, family, or wills attorney will have a copy of the will.

Life or Burial Policies: When it comes to paying funeral expenses, you should understand that ensuring there are funds available is one of the most important jobs of the personal representative. Many times, the deceased will have purchased life insurance policies just for that purpose. Often these policies can be found alongside the will. There is no need to "cash in" the policy yourself; in most cases you can provide the policy itself to the funeral home (with a signature from the policy beneficiary) and the proceeds will be applied to the funeral expenses. Any left over funds will be sent to the beneficiary and overages may be billed to the estate.

Trusts: These legal documents are important, since the provisions in a trust could override those in a will. If there is a trust, there will be a trustee appointed who fulfills a similar role as that of the personal representative.

Other Documents:

  • Death certificates (available a few weeks after the death).
  • Titles to vehicles
  • Deeds to real estate
  • Tax returns
  • Banking and investment information.