When you’re grieving, the thought of managing financial accounts and legal documents can be highly stressful. But it’s critical to ensure your loved one’s wishes are honored and their legacy is protected.
If you’ve been named the personal representative of an estate – also known in other states as an executor – there are a host of tasks you’ll need to take on. Your loved one may have stored their records digitally, or you may find yourself sorting through filing cabinets of paper records. Here are some insights on what to look out for, and how best to organize and save them.
What Documents Should I Save?
It’s important to know which documents you’ll need during probate, and what information you’ll need to hold onto for taxes and other financial matters. Each estate is unique, but in general, here are key documents to save:
- Last will and testament
- Birth and death certificates
- Records of funeral expenses
- Life insurance policies
- Vehicle titles
- Real estate deeds
- Business contracts
- Tax returns
- Records of medical expenses
- Bank statements
This is an overview of essentials, but other documents may be needed, too. And while some of these records may be found in online accounts (check out our guide to managing the digital aspects of probate), you’ll want to make sure that both digital and paper records are saved and stored securely.
How Long Should I Save Records?
If you’re the personal representative of the estate, it’s important to be diligent in gathering and storing estate documents. The length of time you should hold onto them varies, depending on the document and its purpose. For example, the IRS period of limitations for income tax returns is anywhere from 3-7 years. The IRS can audit returns years after they’re filed, so you’ll want to make sure the information is at hand.
Probate can also be an extensive process. It may be completed in a few months, or it may take years. With all this in mind, it’s best to store estate documents in an organized and secure way, for the long term.
Managing Estate Records Securely
If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll need a document in the future, it’s always best to save it. You’ll need the original copy of certain documents, like the will, but many others can be digitized. Most smartphones now have scanning features. There are also scanning apps available, as well as budget-friendly scanning machines.
Just remember to take every precaution to save estate documents securely. Florida law states that an individual’s will should be filed with the court within 10 days of the individual’s death. Digital files can be stored in cloud-based systems or on external hard drives stored in a safe place.
Part of keeping your loved one’s estate secure is also keeping records safe from fraudsters. Identity theft of deceased persons does occur, with criminals scouring the internet and even sorting through garbage bins to try to collect personal information. Shredding non-critical documents with sensitive information – like credit card offers – can help reduce these risks. Again, if you’re not sure, save the document and seek legal advice.
Tackling mounds of paperwork can be an immense task, but it can help streamline the probate process and protect your loved one’s estate. We understand the complexities of organizing estate documents, and we’re here to help you manage this responsibility efficiently and securely.