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What papers do you need to gather after a loved one dies?

Soon after a family member dies, it's essential to begin settling their affairs and their estate. Even people who don't have an estate plan have an estate in the eyes of the law. You'll need to locate a number of documents.

If your loved one didn't share much information about their finances with others and their assets were in their name only, this can be a challenge. If they had an estate plan in place, their attorney may be able to help you locate many of these items.

Following are the documents that you'll typically need to locate soon after a loved one passes away to take care of remaining obligations and begin to settle their estate:

Estate plan documents: This likely includes a will and/or trust. Be sure to locate the most current copy of the document(s).

Asset information: This typically includes account statements, life insurance policies, real estate deeds and titles and leases to cars and other property. Older people may have savings bonds and stock certificates as well.

Bills: Generally, the executor of the estate will take care of paying bills in the aftermath of the person's death and notifying the appropriate companies of the death. Common bills that will need to be handled include mortgages and other loans, credit card payments and bills from utilities and other service providers. There will probably be some pending medical bills as well.

Business documents: If your loved one was the owner of a closely held business, you'll need to gather things like account statements, contracts, business licenses and corporate, partnership or LLC documents.

Marital agreements: This includes prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

In some cases, you'll need originals of the documents. In other cases, a copy will suffice. If you're working with your loved one's estate planning attorney, they can advise you of which is required. If your loved one didn't have an estate plan in place, it may be wise to consult with one to help ensure that you're handling everything correctly. This can help you avoid unnecessary costs as well as family conflicts down the road.

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