What documents do you need after a loved one dies?

March 05, 2021

When someone you love has died, the process of getting all of the paperwork together can be overwhelming. Who should you call? What papers do you even need? This guide breaks down the documents you need and why.

When a loved one dies and you are called upon to help settle affairs, you face an exhausting mix of coping with loss while facing pragmatic responsibilities. This includes pulling together documents needed for closing accounts, receiving insurance payouts, alerting Social Security, ensuring distribution of assets and finalizing other issues.

You may be the executor of the estate responsible for entering the will into probate court and tasked with things like paying bills and selling property. But often, a spouse, friend or other relative – say, an adult child or sibling – has the closest knowledge of the loved one’s wishes and affairs and supports the executor.

In some situations, people are able to plan ahead and gather documents before a loved one’s passing. Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to have a file of critical documents, bankbooks and more, all in one secure place. You may also want to write down passwords, but be sure to keep them in a secure place as well.

Here is a list, focused on property and finances, to help you start when a loved one dies.


Death certificate

You will need 10 to 20 copies of a certified death certificate; most funeral homes can help you obtain them. Typical advice is to start with a dozen. You can always request more from the county government records office where the death was recorded as needed. (If you are not sure where to go, review this list of vital records offices by state.) There is a charge for certified copies. Some ways you will use these records:

  • For proof of death before burial or cremation
  • To receive payout from life insurance policies or claim a spouse’s pension
  • To alert Social Security or Veterans' Administration of the death
  • For closing bank accounts, credit cards, utilities and even cell phone plans
  • For stock sales, some real estate transfers and business dealings, such as closing a corporation
  • If in the future you remarry, you’ll need to show your former spouse is deceased
  • Likewise, if you have children, you may need proof of their other parent’s death when applying for a passport or for college financial aid


Basic information

It’ll be helpful to have information on-hand you’ll be asked again and again, sometimes with a request for documentation. This may include your loved one’s:

  • Full name
  • Mailing address (on a driver’s license or utility bill)
  • Date of birth and birth certificate
  • Social Security number and Social Security card

If you’re working with U.S. Bank, visit our online resources for financial guidance after a loss.


Proof of relationships and roles

Gather documentation that shows your loved one’s connections. For instance:

  • Marriage license
  • Birth certificates of any children
  • For veterans, discharge papers and VA claim number


Property and money

Think through what your loved one owned, so you or the executor of the estate can help distribute assets and shut down accounts as needed.

  • Bank, credit union passbooks, checkbooks or access to online accounts
  • Investments, stocks and other funds – paper certificates, or access to online accounts
  • Deeds and titles to property
  • Automobile titles
  • Income tax returns, W2 and other tax forms


Health-related considerations

What was your loved one’s health insurance? Membership to a fitness club? Automated mail-order prescriptions?

  • Social Security should notify Medicare, but double-check to make sure any associated programs like Part D and Medigap policies are cancelled.
  • Likewise cancel clubs and memberships, health-related or not, that won’t be used by other family members.


Online presence

Was your loved one active on social media? Most platforms allow relatives to change a person’s page to a memorial page. Taking this step can ease worries about inappropriate posts, while keeping cherished photos and memories.

Losing a loved one is hard enough with emotions of grief, sadness and stress, on top of the overwhelming feeling of handling finances. But this list of documents you’ll need may help to provide a bit of accommodating structure during this challenging time.


For more helpful guidance during this time, visit Managing finances after the death of a spouse.

Related content

How to access digital assets after a loved one's death

Handling the finances of someone who has died: Terms and definitions

When your spouse has passed away: A three-month financial checklist

What documents do you need after a loved one dies?

What you need to know as the executor of an estate

Resources for managing financial matters after an unexpected death


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