How To Locate Important Documents, Files and Account Information

Before you begin settling the estate and sorting out the affairs of the person who died, you’ll want to collect some key documents. These documents are primarily financial and legal, and by collecting everything at the beginning of the process you will hopefully save yourself the stress of having to locate each document as you need it.

Where to find important documents

If the person who died was very well organized, many of the items you need may be located together in a filing cabinet, a folder or a binder, or a safe deposit box. If they are not already collected together, you may have to search for them. Looking through the wallet of the person who died may be a good place to start. You will also want to contact any attorneys, accountants, or insurance agents that the person who died worked with, as those people may be able to give you some of these documents. Address books, email accounts, and document letterhead can be good ways to look for the names and contact information of these types of professionals.

Documents, files, and accounts you may need to locate

Some of the key documents you might need include:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Trusts (that the person who died had established, was a trustee of, or was the beneficiary of)
  • Insurance policies, including life insurance, car insurance, property insurance (home, fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, etc.)
  • Pension or retirement benefits
  • Prior year and current years personal income tax return (including supporting documentation, i.e. 1099s)
  • Any other income tax returns filed a regular basis
  • Gift tax returns
  • Proof of marriage and divorce, if applicable
  • Bank or brokerage statements, checkbooks, U.S. Savings Bonds, etc
  • Title to motor vehicles
  • Any documentation of business ownership
  • Existence of a safe deposit box

If you cannot find the life insurance policy or policies of the person who died, see our article How to Locate Lost Insurance Policies.

When applying for benefits, you will need to have some information about the person who died. To learn more about the information you'll need to gather, see our article Gathering Information About the Person Who Died.

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