Let Paperwork Lead The Way

Being appointed as personal representative of an estate is an honor and privilege, and you should feel very good about that. You may, however, be wondering what is expected of you. Interestingly enough, you can get a very good idea of what is to come by taking a look at some common estate-related documents. Read on and let paperwork lead to you a successful personal representative experience.

The Last Will and Testament

Undoubtedly, the most well known estate document and probably the most important is the will of the deceased. This document should be located as soon as possible after the death due to people's tendency to put funeral and burial arrangements in it. It's not necessary to have a formal reading of the will until later on after the funeral, but it wouldn't hurt to check it over as soon as you can. Most people place their wills in secure locations in their homes, but some use the bank safe deposit box for that purpose. As personal representative, you must access it and assemble the family for the reading at the estate lawyer's office.

Life or Burial Policies

Many people use life insurance policies to pay funeral expenses, so locating these should be done right away unless you know that funeral and burial plans exist elsewhere. These policies will name a beneficiary, and they will need to sign the policy over to the funeral home at the time the arrangements are made. Normally the family is billed for any charges in excess of the policy or refunded if any is left over. Many people have already made arrangements for their funeral and burial directly with the funeral home, and those documents are probably kept with or near the will.


These estate documents are becoming more common as word gets out about the way they simplify things after a death. There is no need to probate a trust; it can be read right away, and the beneficiaries can take possession of their inherited item as soon as the death certificate becomes available. It should be noted that these instruments name an administrator (known as a trustee) that serves a similar purpose as that of a personal representative.

Death Certificate

As mentioned above, this document is prepared by the county coroner and is mailed to the funeral home and the family about a week after the death, give or take a few days. In the event of an autopsy or other unusual events, this certificate could face delays. It will be needed to present to creditors, the bank, the county property appraiser, the title department, and much more. You will need to contact Social Security and Medicare or Medicaid right away and then send them a certified copy. Order several certified copies; you will need them.

Talk to a probate attorney to learn more.