Records to Locate

When someone dies, their heirs and other interested parties have to piece together the information needed to wrap up the decedent’s last affairs.  There are a number of different records that should be secured. It often takes a bit of detective work to identify and locate the records that are needed.   

At a minimum, a search should be performed for the following documents at the decedent’s residence, business, etc.:

  1. The legal documents, including wills and trusts, birth certificate and Social Security card (for the decedent and children), marriage licenses and divorce decrees, military discharge paperwork, and immigration paperwork.
  2. Prior year tax returns.
  3. Any asset and title paperwork, such as car registration paperwork and division orders for mineral interests.
  4. Evidence of any debts and written evidence as to the amount of the debts.
  5. Evidence of any health and life insurance policies that may pay out.
  6. Evidence of any liability insurance policies that may cover lost property.
  7. Evidence of any open credit or service accounts that need to be terminated, in addition to Social Security or other government benefits.
  8. Evidence of any lawsuits that are pending, judgments, or liens.
  9. Names and contact numbers for others who may know if the decedent’s assets or financial affairs, such as insurance agents, financial planners, investment advisors, attorneys and accountants.  

The search should include a search for paper and electronic records.  

These records should be reviewed for any indication as to other accounts or assets.  For example, the decedent’s income tax returns should be evaluated to see if there are bank accounts reporting interest received, retirement accounts or annuities that are paying out money reported as income, brokerage accounts reflecting gains and losses, real estate mortgages, etc.  

The Decedent’s Mail and Post Office Box

Many of the decedent’s records can be located by monitoring the mail that comes in.  If the decedent had their mail sent to their house and you live nearby, this is a relatively easy process.

It may also be possible–and advisable–to file a change of address form with the local post office to direct the mail to another location.  The change of address form can also be used to have mail forwarded from a post office box.  The U.S. Postal Service may require letters testamentary (which are obtained as part of the probate process) to make this change.

Locating the Original Will

Locating the original will often presents special challenges.  

Most people keep their will with their important papers.  This may be in a safe in their home or in a safety deposit box in a bank.  The decedent may have also lodged the will with the local county or probate clerk in the county in which they reside for safekeeping (while Texas law allows for this, very few people actually use this option).  

It may also be necessary to contact the decedent’s family and friends to see if they have a copy of the will or know of its whereabouts.  If these efforts fail, it may be helpful to ask the decedent’s family members whether the decedent had hired an attorney to prepare a will or used a particular attorney for any matter.  It may also be advisable to send a letter to attorneys the decedent may have employed to prepare a will.

If the will names a corporate fiduciary or trustee, this entity or person may know the whereabouts of the original will.  This entity or person may be located by inquiring with the decedent’s insurance agents, financial advisors, banks, accountants, etc.

What to Do With the Original Will

Once located, Texas law requires the custodian of an original will to deliver the will to the court that has jurisdiction over the estate.  If the custodian does not deliver the will, an interested party can ask the probate court to order the production of the will.  The probate court then has the authority to arrest and hold the person in custody until they produce the will.

The lodging of the will with the court alerts the clerk to notify the person named as executor in the will, of the existence of the will.  The clerk will then deliver the will to the executor upon request.  If the executor does not respond to the clerk within 31 days or if no executor is named in the will, the clerk will then notify the heirs listed in the will.  

We’ll address how to access the decedent’s final paycheck next. Click here to continue reading.  >>>>

Hire an Experienced Probate Attorney

Do you need help with a probate matter in Houston-metro area or the surrounding communities?  We are experienced probate attorneys who represent clients with sensitive probate matters.  If so, please give us a call us at (713) 909-4906 or use the contact form below to see how we can help.