Getting Organized

Having a good perspective on what you need to do and what to expect during the estate settlement process is important.

What to do first

Retirement accounts may need immediate attention

Retirement accounts have special requirements for distributions following a death depending on the beneficiary's age and relationship to the deceased. For the latest details on inheriting a retirement account, see Fidelity Viewpoints® on Inherited IRAs.

Even in the early days of coping with a loss, you may need to make significant financial decisions and take action quickly. Whether you are contending with the loss of a spouse, parent, or other person close to you, there are many items that may need your attention. You’ll likely want to start by gathering the records and documents you’ll need.

Each situation is different, but this Inheritance Checklist outlines the records you'll probably need, steps to take, and benefits to investigate to ensure the process goes smoothly and you receive everything you are entitled to receive.

You should always consult an attorney and possibly a tax advisor, as well.

Where to look for records

If you're not sure where key documents such as the will and financial account records are kept, below is a list of common places to find them. If you are helping someone through a recent loss, only the executor or surviving spouse may be able to access these items.

  • Computer – Check for any records kept on a personal computer, including any financial management software.
  • Mail – Check the mail regularly for 60 to 90 days for anything you may have overlooked. Not all financial services firms send regular statements, so continue checking occasionally for another 6 to 12 months.
  • Tax returns – Tax returns for the previous two years should identify any assets or tax credits carried from previous tax periods.
  • Files and safe deposit box – Check any personal files or safe deposit boxes for original documents.
  • Address book or email contacts – Contact attorneys, accountants, or financial advisors listed in the deceased’s address book or electronic contact lists.

Next step

Transferring the Assets
Learn what to expect as you assume ownership of bequeathed assets.