Essential documents for probate: a checklist.
Finding yourself suddenly in charge of managing an estate can feel a bit like being buried under an avalanche of documents — if you’ve even figured out yet which ones you need.
The probate process can be lengthy and exhausting. Knowing what documents you need after someone dies and beginning the process quickly can help ensure that you don’t lose any important documents or fail to manage critical portions of the estate process simply because you didn’t know they existed.
We’ve put together a checklist of everything you’ll need for the probate process and separated it into three categories: mostly required documents, helpful documents, and business documents (only necessary if the deceased owned a closely-held business).
Most commonly required documents
These documents are those that will likely be required by the probate court or by asset holders, such as banks or the department of motor vehicles, for actual administration of the state.
- Last will and testament, including any codicils. This must be a signed, original version. If you cannot find the original will and have a copy of it, courts will allow you to submit a copy when accompanied by several additional forms. (If you cannot locate a will or do not have a copy, you will have to proceed as if there is no will. The state’s intestate laws (no will inheritance law) will determine priority of administration and inheritance.)
- Revocable living trust documents, including any amendments. A copy is generally fine.
- Death certificates. You will likely need multiple original copies of the death certificate to get necessary information from other sources.
- Life insurance policies
- Beneficiary designations. These are most commonly included with life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and payable on death or transfer on death accounts.
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
- Loan agreements
- Lease agreements
- Real estate deeds
- Vehicle titles. Original titles are required to transfer legal title.
- Stock and bond certificates. Original certificates are generally required.
- Federal and state income tax returns for the past three years
- Federal and state gift tax returns
- Petition for Probate Administration. You can get this document from the local probate court and fill it out or have EZ-Probate help you fill it out.
Helpful documents to have on hand
These documents will provide you the relevant information you’ll need to carry out estate administration.
- Recent account statements, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, and brokerage accounts
- List of eligible heirs and contact information
- List of known assets
- List of known debts
- Appraisal valuations for high-value personal belongings
- Existing bills, such as utility bills, cell phone bills, credit card bills, mortgages and personal loan bills, property tax bills, medical bills, funeral bill
These documents will be necessary only if the deceased owned a closely-held business.
- Corporate, LLC or partnership documents
- Account statements
- Business licenses
- Income tax returns
- Titles for vehicles
We recommend printing out this checklist to keep you on track as you begin preparing and compiling documents for the probate process. For any questions regarding our checklist or specific questions as you move forward with your case, we encourage you to contact us—we're always happy to help.