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Collecting Correct Documentation

If you are serving as a Personal Representative (PR) of the Deceased’s estate, there are several types of records you will need to gather. Many of the required documents are likely stored at the Deceased’s home or in a safety deposit box. Others may need to be requested from the government or through private entities. Find a listing of important records below.

Download the Records You May Need Checklist

Death Certificate

The most important document a Personal Representative (PR) needs is the death certificate––and multiple copies. Original copies are required and photocopies will not suffice. In fact, most sources recommend having at least 12 original copies of the death certificate in order to close or handle any type of account or detail regarding the Deceased. This includes showing proof of death to insurance companies, banks, utilities, the court, the funeral home, and other institutions. There may be some cases where a PR will need more than 12 death certificates. Please Note: In many cases, you cannot begin to handle a Deceased’s estate without first having a death certificate.

Where to obtain a death certificate (where it is issued and who will sign it) depends upon the state in which the Deceased lived and the circumstances of their death. Death certificates are usually signed by coroners or physicians, but police officers or even health officials can also sign them under certain circumstances.

When seeking multiple copies, funeral homes will sometimes offer to get copies of the death certificate for the family members. Another option is to contact your county government to learn where you can get copies of recent death certificates and when they’ll be available.

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A very important record is the Deceased’s will. Sometimes finding it can be a difficult task. Try the following recommendations if you are having trouble finding the will:

  • Ask friends and family if they’re aware of the existence of a will and where there may be a copy. Though you may expect it to simply be in the files of the household, not everyone keeps organized files in a central location or even keeps files at all.
  • Another place to look is a safe deposit box at a local bank or post office. In order to access a safe deposit box, however, the PR must be on the approved list of people who are able to access it. If the PR is not on the list, they’ll need to request access to the will through the institution where it is held. Institutions vary on what documentation is needed, but often a death certificate and proof of your role as PR are required as well as photo identification. For these reasons, keeping the only copy of a will in a safety deposit box is not a good idea.

Please Note: In order to be appointed PR, the estate needs to be accounted and the will reviewed, but if the PR or family can’t access the will, the process is much more difficult. It is in the best interest of everyone to find the will if one exists.

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Insurance Records

Insurance records of the Deceased, particularly life insurance, are also important. Like the will, these may or may not be in the Deceased’s personal records. If you cannot find information for insurance policies, but know they exist, here are some ideas to help you collect the needed documentation:

  • Try looking at the Deceased’s financial records to find out where and to whom insurance payments were made. You can then call the companies and explain the situation. Usually, if you send a death certificate and copy of your authorization as PR, they’ll send you copies of the insurance policies.
  • Another good place to look for information is the Deceased’s most recent place of work or past employers. Many people purchase life insurance through their employer, so contacting the HR representative where the Deceased was employed may give you the information you need.
  • Ask close family and friends. They may be aware of a relationship between the Deceased and a life insurance company. If the Deceased lives in a small town, they may have purchased the insurance from one of the local life insurance agents. Call their offices to ask if the Deceased had a policy there.
  • Check with the Deceased’s auto or home insurance agent. Insurance agents often try to get their clients to purchase several different policies from them; you can inquire about whether or not the Deceased’s agents did so.
  • When other resources are exhausted, there are companies that will perform an insurance search for a fee. These companies scour available records to investigate whether or not the Deceased ever took out a life insurance policy.

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Credit Report

A copy of the Deceased’s credit report is crucial in resolving any outstanding debt and finalizing the accounting for all the assets. You may find a recent copy in the Deceased’s personal records. If not, however, you’ll need to request one.

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