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How to Prepare for Probate: Organizing Documents and Information

On Behalf of | Aug 17, 2023 | Alleviate Worry, Beneficiaries, Estate Planning, Estate Planning Attorneys, Executor, Prepare, Prepare Your Estate, Probate, Probate Assistance, Probate Attorneys

After a loved one’s death, the thought of having to undergo a probate process to administer the deceased’s assets is not exactly an exciting prospect. However, organizing the necessary documents and information ahead of time can help streamline this process and alleviate some of the burdens associated with probate. This post explains what documents you need to prepare for probate and other steps so that you can plan accordingly and know what to expect.

Gather Essential Documents

Gathering the necessary documents is a fundamental step in preparing for probate. These documents provide a comprehensive overview of the deceased person’s assets, liabilities, and wishes. Here are some essential documents to gather: 

  • Trust Documents: If the deceased had a living trust, gather all trust-related documents. A living trust owns the assets, and the designated trustee can administer the assets of the trust to the beneficiaries without the supervision of the probate court, saving time and money. If, however, your loved one did not have a trust in place, probate will most likely be necessary.


  • Will: The last will and testament outlines how the deceased person’s assets should be distributed. This document typically names a personal representative (PR) who will oversee the probate process and states how assets should be distributed. If there is no will, then default state laws apply to determine who the probate court will appoint as PR, and how your assets will be distributed.


  • Death Certificate: This is a critical document that provides official confirmation of the person’s passing. It is advisable to have multiple copies of the death certificate because you may need to have proof of the deceased’s death for a variety of legal purposes. 


  • Financial Statements: Collect statements from bank accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and any other financial assets. Sometimes this can take a while if the deceased did not know about or write out their assets prior to their passing, so it’s important to start this process as soon as possible. 


  • Real Estate Documents: Include deeds, mortgage documents, and property tax statements for any real estate owned by the deceased. Every state also has varying laws on the distribution of real property following an individual’s death, so having a knowledgeable estate planning and/or probate attorney can help you understand how to transfer real estate.


  • Insurance Policies: Life insurance, property insurance, and any other policies should be documented. If the life insurance policy had a designated beneficiary who is still alive (and was not payable to the estate), then the death benefit usually can completely bypass the probate process. It’s usually also exempt from any creditors of the estate.


List Liabilities and Debts

In addition to assets, you need to compile a list of the deceased person’s liabilities and debts. This could include credit card debts, loans, mortgages, and other financial obligations. These liabilities will need to be settled as part of the probate process, and creditors must have notice of the deceased’s passing, via mail for known creditors and by publishing notice in a local newspaper for any unknown creditors.

Identify Beneficiaries and Heirs

Clearly identify the beneficiaries and heirs who are entitled to the deceased person’s assets. Hopefully, if there is a will, the decedent has laid out devisees (i.e., beneficiaries) clearly, but sometimes this is not always the case. Nonetheless, obtaining this information will help ensure that assets are distributed correctly during probate. If there are any complexities regarding beneficiaries, it’s recommended that you seek professional legal advice to ensure you understand certain legal issues.

Designate an Executor 

The executor, also known as a personal representative, is responsible for managing the probate process. If the deceased person named an executor in their will, make sure that person is aware of their role. If no executor was named or if the named executor is unable or unwilling to serve, the court will appoint one. 

Organize Digital Assets 

In today’s digital age, it’s essential to consider digital assets such as online accounts, social media profiles, and digital files. Keep a record of these assets and include relevant login information and instructions on how to handle them after the person’s passing. Especially in the 21st century, everyone has a digital footprint that will outlive themselves, so if you have important accounts like cryptocurrencies or if your social media accounts accrue revenue, communicate that information to your probate attorney. 



Overall, preparing for probate by organizing documents and information can help ease the stress and challenges associated with the process of distributing a deceased person’s assets. By following the discussed steps, you can go through the probate process smoothly and efficiently. While this process may still be emotionally taxing, proper preparation can make a significant difference in ensuring that your loved one’s final wishes are respected and their legacy is properly managed. Call Windrose Law Center today for a free consultation if you think you need help navigating the probate process.