Executor

Tips for Finding Lost or Missing Estate Planning Documents

Losing a loved one is a stressful time. If you can’t find documents from your loved one’s estate plan, then a stressful time becomes even more challenging. What happens if you can’t find all the bills the estate must pay? What about finding documentation for a trust?

Finding and Paying Estate Debts

Whether you are the executor of the estate or a loved one, you may need to make sense of bills after a loved one dies. Try these tips to find debts the estate may owe:

  1. Use the probate process to find unknown debts. As a matter of course, if you are the executor you will be required to notify all known creditors of a decedent’s estate the person has died and that a probate has been opened. Unknown creditors are more challenging. Each state’s probate laws will dictate how these unknown creditors should be handled. In a number of states, publication in a local newspaper for the person’s passing is an alternative. Under the probate laws of the state where the administration is occurring, there are claim periods in which all creditors must file claims against the estate in order to preserve their right to collect the debt. As the executor, you should speak with a lawyer to get guidance on this process in your specific state.
  2. Access the deceased’s credit report. You can use a credit report to see a list of debts your loved one owed. In order to access the credit report, as the executor you must submit the proper paperwork to each credit-reporting agency. The documents that are commonly requested to be submitted are copies of letters testamentary (a letter from the probate court stating you are the executor and can act on behalf of the estate) and a certified copy of the death certificate.

Finding Missing Estate Documents

Another challenge that may present itself is locating misplaced estate plan documents. You may know your loved one created a trust, but cannot locate the signed document. Try these tips for finding missing estate documents:

  1. Contact the lawyer that prepared the trust. If your loved one put assets into a trust, but you cannot find the original documentation, contact the lawyer that helped prepare the trust. It is not uncommon for the estate planning lawyer to have original trust agreement. He or she may also have a conformed copy of the trust with the signature of the deceased. However, it is important to ensure the difference between a document that is missing and one that may have been revoked.
  2. Check for a safety deposit box. People frequently keep estate planning documents in safe deposit boxes. If you are not sure whether your loved one used a safety deposit box, the executor can contact banks with which the decedent did business to find out if a box exists in their name.

How to Avoid the “Missing Estate Documents” Scenario

The worst-case scenario is your loved ones not being able to locate the documents needed to administer your estate or trust. Keep estate planning information and other relevant estate and asset documentation together in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box or home office. It is also a good idea to let your trustee and executor know where those documents are. Additionally, consider providing your trustee and executor with contact information for any attorneys, accountants, financial planners or bank contacts that are familiar with your assets.

Estate planning and settlement can be a challenging process. We are here to help. If you have questions about an estate, contact a Fifth Third Bank specialist.

Fifth Third Bank does not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax adviser or attorney before making any decisions or taking any action based on this information. This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute the rendering of tax or legal advice.

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