Let’s assume you lost a loved one and had never discussed where all their important documents and information are located. Unfortunately, this is the story for far too many families, including mine! So where do you start looking?

It goes without saying that each person and family will be different in terms of where they stored things, if they were big on physical or digital copies, etc., but between my experience and consulting with local estate attorney, Meg Cressman, here are ideas of places you could start looking:

Generally, you should look for a safe deposit box at your loved one’s bank, a safe in the home, and in any locations where files may be stored, like in an office or attic. Digitally, you can look on your loved one’s hard drive or on an online document repository like Dropbox (more on online document storage services for estate documents next week!) for digital copies of important documents. Some of this information may end up in unclaimed property in states your loved one had lived in. And don’t forget to look in obscure places like the freezer or under a mattress.

  • Will– Check with the family attorney to see if they have one or check with the attorney that drafted it. In some cases, the attorney may have already filed them at court.
  • Letters Testamentary– You will receive these once the estate is open at Court.  They are provided at the time the estate is opened. Request as many as you think you might need when the Estate opens but you can always call and request more from the clerk’s office. You pay for each original. 
  • Birth certificate- In TN, and potentially in other states, you can order through the Vital Records office.
  • Social Security card- Check loved one’s wallet. If just looking for the Social Security number, it can typically be found on the death certificate, on a w-2/1099, or in some states it is used on the driver’s license.
  • Marriage License- Besides the common areas, you can also check places like a wedding scrapbook or it could be framed in your loved one’s home. You can also order from the Vital Records office as well in TN.
  • Health insurance policies- Check with loved one’s employer or bank statements.
  • Life insurance policies– Check bank statements or reach out to insurance broker (which could be through loved one’s employer-past or present). If still unsure, you could call life insurance companies directly to start searching or use the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service to search for policies.
  • Old income statements or tax returns– ​Check with the loved one’s CPA. If they always use turbotax, you may have to request directly from the IRS.
  • 6-8 copies of certified death certificate– Most places are fine with a photocopy and you can always request more if needed. 
  • Any bills (old or current)– Check mail, email, or financial apps on phone such as Mint. If no one else is living at the house, have the mail forwarded to the new Executor. 
  • Lease or mortgage information- Check bank statements and loved one’s mail.
  • Car/House titles (if applicable)- Go to the Register of Deeds for the car titles if lost or if you need to change ownership.  For a Deed, you can sometimes get it online.
  • Bank information- Check mail or emails from bank entities. If you are able to get into loved one’s phone, you could look for a Mint or similar financial app that may have financial info attached.
  • Stocks/Pension/401k information- Ideally you could reach out to loved one’s financial advisor. If that is unknown, you can start looking at past tax filing documents which may show past investments. You can also try and search on this site for old retirement plans.
  • Car titles- Can receive duplicate from DMV.

Of course, Sunny Care Services always recommends you first reach out to your family estate attorney and financial advisor before taking action on any estate related activities.