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What documents should I prepare after the death of a loved one?

Within days and months of your loss, you'll need to gather many documents and make financial decisions. This may be less burdensome and confusing if you acquaint yourself with what you'll need and try to collect some of these items before you are pressed to do so.
  • Death, birth, and marriage certificates. The funeral director or county health department can issue death certificates. You may need several certified copies. Various agencies and companies will request this document before releasing information or funds. Birth certificates are available through the public records department in the state or county where the person was born. Marriage certificates are filed with the county clerk where the marriage was performed. The National Center for Health Statistics Web site has state-by-state listings that can help you track down these vital documents and learn about fees for getting them.
  • A will. A copy of the will may be found grouped with other important papers, possibly in a safe deposit box. If a lawyer wrote it, he or she should have a copy.
  • Social Security numbers. You'll need the correct Social Security numbers for the deceased, spouse, and any children who are dependents. For help, you can contact the Social Security Administration.
  • Discharge papers for veterans. Next of kin can find request forms for discharge papers. Otherwise, you can get a copy from the National Personnel Records Center or by going through the Web site of the agency, which is part of the National Archives.
  • Financial information. Make a list of property and important financial information. Include real estate and personal property, insurance policies and account numbers, stocks, bonds, deeds, leases, bank and credit union accounts, retirement accounts, pension fund information, and a federal income tax return from the previous year. If a copy of the tax return isn't available, file Internal Revenue Service (IRS) form 4506 with the IRS to receive one.
  • Information about debts. Make a list of regular bills and credit card accounts. If necessary, you can do so by going through past bills and checkbooks. You'll probably need to contact a number of organizations and companies. You may wish to call for information, but you'll also need to send a formal letter or make a formal application, too. Check credit card accounts for automatic payments and renewals that may need to be cancelled at death.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.