FAQ: How Do I Locate Probate Assets?
When I am assisting clients with probate, I have noticed two extremes.
On one end of the spectrum is the deceased who keeps an extremely thorough, updated spreadsheet (or an I Love You Letter) of all assets with account numbers, financial institution addressees and phone numbers, current values, beneficiaries, purchase price, etc. On the other end of the spectrum is the deceased who has not informed anyone of any bank accounts, life insurance policies, 401Ks, real estate, etc. that he or she might own and who keeps sloppy records or none at all.
The clients whose loved one kept the immaculate records have a much easier task of probating the estate than those who don’t. For those clients who have no clue what assets the deceased might own, I usually recommend the following:
- Start with bank statements. Bank statements can obviously give you account numbers and account amounts. You can search through old statements to uncover any premiums paid on life insurance policies, real estate taxes, or other payments that can give you a clue on locating other assets.
- Look over previous tax returns. These can give you an idea of who the deceased’s tax preparer was, any mortgages paid, retirement income information, and more depending on the tax form used.
- Search for safe deposit boxes. The obvious place to start is the primary bank used by the deceased. If you can’t find one there but you are certain the deceased had one, talk to other local banks in the area.
- Attempt to locate the deceased’s accountant or financial advisor. He or she should have a list of the deceased’s assets.
- Look through the deceased’s personal papers. Those could provide a wealth of information, such as mortgage documents, brokerage statements, insurance policies, storage facility rental documents, or personal or business appraisals.
- Look through the deceased’s computer.
- Talk with the deceased’s current and past employers. They can give you information on any retirement accounts he or she owned.
- Don’t forget to look through the deceased’s home thoroughly for any hiding places. I have heard many anecdotal stories of money hidden in the attic, jewels sewn into curtains, etc.