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What documents need to keep after someone dies?

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As the personal representative or executor of a person’s estate, it will be your responsibility to go through the belongings of the deceased and distribute the personal property in accordance with the deceased person’s will or a separate personal property memorandum.

When acting as the executor of a deceased person's estate, it is your obligation to review and dispense the personal property in accordance with the will or separate personal property memorandum. When considering certain items, such as jewelry, photographs, paintings, silverware, china, and furnishings, they may be more easily distributed due to their monetary and emotional worth, while other items, such as financial documents, insurance policies, utility bills, and tax returns, may be more challenging to distribute.

What documentation should be kept?

It is strongly recommended by estate administration attorneys that the following documents remain in possession:

  • It is essential that original birth and death certificates of both the deceased person and any predeceased spouse are kept in safekeeping. These documents are critical components of the estate administration process and should be handled with care;
  • The original marriage certificate, prenuptial agreement and divorce decree, as well as the original ownership certificates for stocks, bonds and other assets;
  • It is required that those filing taxes must submit income tax returns from the previous three years, in addition to supporting documents such as Form W-2, Form 1099, Form 1099-R, receipts for charitable deductions, etc;
  • Gift tax returns;
  • Tax filings for the estate of the deceased spouse;
  • You'll need to gather records like check registers, bank account statements, retirement accounts, credit card statements, medical bills, and utility bills from the year of death and any year you haven't already filed taxes for;
  • Documents related to retirement plans, for example pension paperwork, annuity contracts, etc.; and
  • Don't forget to search through any life insurance policies your loved one owned, as well as any homeowners' insurance or umbrella coverage documents they had.

What to do if you are unsure if a document should be kept?

As a general rule, if a document not mentioned in the above list appears to be of importance, it is better to keep it than to discard it. If you are uncertain about whether a particular document should be held onto, you should consult your estate administration attorney for further review and guidance on the best course of action. This is especially critical when it comes to documents related to estate plans, such as pension paperwork and annuity contracts, as these documents can be extremely important and should not be taken lightly.

How long should these documents be kept?

While documents such as birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and divorce decrees should be retained without end, other documents pertaining to estate plans, for example pension paperwork and annuity contracts, ought to be kept for a time frame of three years after the demise of the person involved or the filing of the relevant estate tax return, whichever comes last.

What should be done with the remaining documentation?

Once you finish sorting through the deceased person’s documents and set aside the important ones listed above, you may be left with a pile of other papers. To reduce the likelihood of identity theft, it is always a good idea to shred any documents that contain any personal or financial information.

After you have carefully sorted and set aside the important documents of the deceased, you may be left with a hefty pile of additional papers. To prevent any cases of identity theft, it is highly advised to shred all documents containing personal or financial information. If you don't have a shredder of your own, or the amount of papers is too great to shred them at home, you can hire a document management company that will collect the papers and securely dispose of them at an external facility. It is typically a reimbursable expense of the estate to hire a document management company.

How long keep deceased parents bank statements?

It is important to remember that the financial documents of the deceased should be retained for a minimum of three years after their passing, or three years after any taxes related to the estate are filed (whichever comes first). This is to make sure that all necessary documents related to taxes remain available should they be needed.

Do bank accounts automatically close after death?

If the account holder established someone as a beneficiary, the bank will transfer the funds to that named person once it is made aware of the account holder's passing. Once the funds are transferred, the bank typically closes the account. But if the owner of the account forgot to name a beneficiary, the process can become much more complex and complicated.

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