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Estate Care Center

What to do when a loved one passes away

We’re here to help

The death of a loved one is difficult, and dealing with his or her finances can feel overwhelming especially when the process may take weeks or even months. We are here to work with you, and make it as simple and straightforward as possible.

To discuss any accounts your loved one owned, we’ll need the death certificate and may ask for some documents to identify our customer and the role you will play in handling his or her accounts.

Every situation is unique. Below, we’re providing some general information that can help you make financial decisions in a difficult time. You can also download a printable checklist for easy reference.

What to do first

  • Determine your role. If you’ve been named a personal representative or trustee, you have a legal duty to follow the terms of the will or trust agreement. Even if you do not hold one of these roles, you may want to review these materials to gain an understanding of these parties’ responsibilities.
  • Gather the information and necessary documents. This includes the full legal name and social security number of your loved one and a certified copy of the death certificate. Why do we need this information?
  • Locate the will, if any, and check for a trust. If probate is necessary, go to the probate court to have a representative appointed. You may want to seek help from a lawyer or trusted advisor. What if there is no will?

When you’re ready you can:

  • Take the necessary documents to a Wells Fargo location and speak to a banker
  • If you are unable to go to a Wells Fargo location you can close or transition accounts via U.S. mail using a notarized Letter of Instruction, and send via standard U.S. mail to:
    Wells Fargo
    350 SW Jefferson Street
    Portland, Oregon 97201
  • For investment accounts, take your documents to your loved one’s dedicated Financial Advisor.

Documents you may need

Below is a list of documents needed based on account type; however, we may ask for other documents depending on the state in which accounts were opened or state of residence.  We will work with you to understand any documents your situation requires.

Account Type

What they are

Documents*

Individual accounts

  • Accounts without a designated beneficiary or surviving co-owner

Court-issued document appointing an executor/administrator
or
Small estate affidavit in accordance with state laws

Jointly-held accounts, or accounts with named beneficiaries

  • Joint accounts (checking, savings, mortgage, credit card or loan)
  • Payable on-death (POD)
  • Transfer-on-death (TOD)
  • Retirement plans
  • Insurance policies
  • Annuities

Identification of the joint account holder or beneficiaries

Trust accounts

  • Accounts titled in the name of a trust

Certificate of Trust naming a successor trustee

*A death certificate is also needed for all account types.

Affidavit of domicile: A document issues by a governing court that verifies where a person resided at the time of death. It is used to transfer ownership of property or stock into the new owner’s name. Sometimes it is referred to as an 'Affidavit of residence.'

Certificate of trust: A listing of limited information about the administrative provisions of a trust, which proves a valid trust is established without revealing specific details of the property or the identity of the beneficiaries.

Certified death certificate: A copy of the death certificate that has been certified; typically this document has a raised seal that says, “This is a true and certified copy.”

Sometimes, instead of a seal, these certificates have:

  • An ink or multicolored signature
  • A watermark (printed on security paper)

Joint tenancy with right of survivorship: A type of account ownership where all owners have an equal right to the account’s assets. When one party dies, the survivor owns all remaining assets in the account.

Letter of instruction. Any written document from a designated owner, successor, or court-appointed representative of the estate, providing specific instructions on how to distribute the remaining money in any accounts, and what to do with the accounts (such as close accounts) after disbursement.

(If you have an investment account, you may be asked to complete a “Letter of Authorization to Transfer Funds or Securities” in lieu of a letter of instruction.)

Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration: These documents are issued by the court and name a representative, typically an executor or administrator, who will manage the assets and liabilities of the estate, as designated in the will (or if there is no will, by state law). These documents may also be known as:

  • Letters of personal representative
  • Fiduciary letters
  • Certified executor documents

Payable on death (POD): An account with a beneficiary designated by the account owner. The surviving beneficiary will receive any money left in the account upon proof of the owner’s death. Sometimes these accounts are referred to as 'In Trust For (ITF) accounts.'

Potential Successor in Interest (PSII): A person who may have an ownership interest in a property securing a mortgage loan; but, has not provided the appropriate documentation to become confirmed.

Probate. The process in which a will is reviewed by a court to determine whether it is valid and authentic. During probate, the court will appoint a representative (sometimes called an ‘executor’ as named in the will (or an 'administrator' if there is no will). Probate also refers to the administration of the estate, with or without a will. Note: in some cases, based on state law, probate may not be required.

Small Estate Affidavit: In some states, this document can be used to claim or disburse money from estates of limited size, where formal probate is not required under state law. The state law will specify the asset value that qualifies as a “small estate” and requirements for the affidavit.

Successor in Interest (SII): Someone who has received ownership rights to the property through operation of law, death of a borrower, spouse or parent, divorce or separation, or an inter vivos (living) trust.

Tenants in common: A type of account where each owner owns a separate and distinct share of property. Unlike joint tenancy, these shares can be freely transferred to other owners, and there is no right of survivorship among owners.

Transfer on death (TOD): A feature of a non-retirement investment account that allows the owner to designate beneficiaries without going to probate.

Trust: A legal arrangement involving three parties: the party creating the trust (grantor), the party administering the property within the trust’s terms (trustee), and the party for whom the trust is administered (beneficiary).

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) or Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA): The umbrella acts under which custodial accounts for minors are set up. The custodian of the account should transfer control of the assets to a minor when he or she reaches the age specified by statute (usually between the ages of 18 and 21).

Why do I need copies of the death certificate?

The death certificate gives us the information needed to verify the identity and legal residence of our customer.

How do I get all the documents to Wells Fargo?

Bring your documents into a Wells Fargo branch and speak to a banker. To find a branch near you, visit wellsfargo.com/locator.

For brokerage accounts, contact the advisor on the most recent client statement or call one of the following numbers:

        WellsTrade
        1-800-TRADERS (1-800-872-3377)

        Wells Fargo Advisors
        1-800-603-1584

For Wells Fargo Private Bank accounts, contact the Relationship Manager on the most recent client statement or call 877-646-8560.

How long will it take to release estate money in savings and deposit accounts?

The specifics of each account can vary, so the time it may take to settle an account will also differ. In general we begin to process a request as soon as we receive the necessary documents.

What happens to any property in a safe deposit box?

The joint safe deposit box owner can visit the Wells Fargo branch with identification and the key to take care of any belongings held in the safe deposit box. If the joint owner does not have a key, there may be a drilling fee.

If there is not a joint owner, the personal representative can visit a Wells Fargo branch, and a banker can help determine what we need to grant them access to the safe deposit box.

What happens to a mortgage?

The joint homeowner or personal representative can work directly with Home Lending to determine the appropriate next steps and any payments that need to be made. If there is mortgage insurance on the loan, it may pay for some or all of the outstanding balance on the house.

What happens to joint savings and checking accounts?

The joint account holder can visit a Wells Fargo branch with identification and an original death certificate to have the joint account retitled.

What happens to the outstanding balance of a credit card?

The joint account holder or personal representative can work directly with Credit Card Services to determine the appropriate next steps to take for any outstanding balance.

We use the death certificate to verify the identity, date of death, and legal residence of our customer.

If a person dies without a will, he or she dies “intestate,” which means state law determines who will handle their financial affairs and who will inherit any remaining property. Assets not determined by a will include life insurance, joint assets or accounts, retirement money, or beneficiary designations.

Any written document from a designated owner, successor, or court-appointed representative of the estate, providing specific instructions on how to distribute the remaining money in any accounts, and what to do with the accounts (such as close accounts) after disbursement.