If you've been put in charge of a loved one's personal estate, you may begin the job feeling a bit confused and overwhelmed. It might help to allay some of those thoughts to get a feeling for what to expect, and a good way to do that might be by examining some major pieces of paper. Read on for a summary of commonly-used estate documents.

What is needed and when is it needed?

A listing of estate paperwork might make more sense if it's done in a chronological order. You will know, then, what is to get priority handling and what will follow from there. The below list corresponds roughly with the order you might expect to deal with each document.

The Will: This item must go first since it may direct much of your following actions. Additionally, many people put their wishes for their funeral and burial in the will, and this is a task that must be attended to in the first few days after the death.

Locating the will may be a challenge since there is no one place for it to be. While most people take care to place it in a secure location, such as locked desk drawer or safe, it may just as likely be in a bedside table drawer. If, after a thorough search of the home and the bank safe deposit box the will has not been located, speak to the estate attorney who drew the will up. They will have a copy to provide to you from their own files. It should be noted, that a formal reading of the will before all interested parties does not necessarily need to happen before the funeral; that can take place a week or so afterward.

Burial plans or life insurance policies: The personal representative (or executor) is tasked with ensuring that there are funds on hand to pay for the burial, and you might be depending on a number of monetary sources to achieve that goal. In the best-case scenario, you may find that the deceased has already made their own arrangements and have paid for the burial. If not, check for the presence of life insurance policies that may be cashed in and used for that purpose. If all else fails to produce funds for the burial, assets such as a bank account may be used.

Other miscellaneous documents: In some cases, the deceased has created a trust, which will take precedence over the will. Other important documents to locate in the weeks following a death include:

  • Deeds and titles
  • Debt and mortgage and loan information
  • Investment, bank, retirement, and other accounts
  • Tax returns.

To learn more, speak to your preferred trusts lawyer.