Most people realize that if a loved one dies, they may be required to handle their deceased loved one’s affairs after their death. This can include caring for minor children and pets or making funeral and burial arrangements. Perhaps you have a spouse, elderly parent, or relative with whom you have already discussed these issues. If so, that can be very helpful.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Who’s Allowed to Find the Assets of a Deceased Loved One?
- What Documents or Information Will You Need to Find a Deceased Loved One’s Assets?
- Steps for Finding a Deceased Loved One’s Assets
Handling a loved one’s affairs also may include taking responsibility for all of your loved one’s financial matters, including the disposition of their property after their death. Unlike issues related to custody of minor children and end-of-life details, financial matters often are not discussed with loved ones. And if you do not know what property your loved one owns, this can make handling their affairs and administering their estate very difficult.
Who’s Allowed to Find the Assets of a Deceased Loved One?
If you have had discussions with your loved one about these end-of-life issues, you may have agreed to serve as the executor of your loved one’s estate. If so, when your loved one dies, the court will issue letters testamentary, which authorizes you to handle your loved one’s estate and take possession of their property upon their death and administer their estate in probate court.
Even if you are close with your loved one and have been named as their executor, do you really know what property your loved one owns? Do you know what bank accounts they maintain? Do you know if they have a will or a life insurance policy? What stocks do they own? If your loved one passes away tomorrow, do you know how to find all of their assets?
For most people, the answer to that question is, “No.” But if your loved one named you as their executor or you could benefit from your loved one’s estate, this is information you will need to know. This article will take you step-by-step through the process of finding your deceased loved one’s assets after their death.
What Documents or Information Will You Need to Find a Deceased Loved One’s Assets?
When a loved one dies, family members with access to the home often sort through the decedent’s personal belongings to search for a will or other official documents. A will normally includes much, if not all, of a person’s property.
However, even if a will is located and all property is listed, family members cannot always access certain property, like bank accounts, life insurance, security portfolios, electronically held assets, and more. Only the executor of the estate may access such property.
If you are named as the executor of your loved one’s estate, you may access the home of the decedent to locate a will or other documents relevant to the decedent’s property. But before you can access property held by third parties, like bank accounts, insurance proceeds, and electronically held assets, you likely will need a death certificate.
You should obtain several copies of the death certificate to submit as needed. In addition, it is worth having valuable information such as the deceased’s social security number, phone number, and address.
If you are the executor and have the decedent’s death certificate, you may begin collecting the decedent’s property for probate. This can be a difficult and time consuming process. But following the steps listed here will help you locate any assets the decedent may have owned during life.
Steps for Finding a Deceased Loved One’s Assets
Finding a loved one’s property that you don’t know about may seem like searching for the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” But the key to finding a deceased loved one’s assets is taking advantage of all the resources available to locate and access property.
The following steps will help you to identify those common resources. Some property may be easily accessible, but other properties may take some time to locate. If you follow these steps and pursue these resources, you may be confident that if your loved one owns property, you will find it.
Step 1: Look through your loved one’s personal property
Most people keep their personal property at home. Within the home, there often are documents and items that identify what property the decedent owned. One of the first documents you should look for is a will. The decedent’s will likely includes much or all of the property they owned during life and wished to distribute to relatives and friends upon their death.
Many people keep important legal documents and estate planning documents like a will, in a secure location within the home. Often this is an office desk or file cabinet, where important papers can be accessed easily. Start by looking through your loved one’s personal papers to see if they have a will. Many times, the deceased will identify property in their will, as well as where the property is located.
For example, if the will includes proceeds in a bank account or interests in a stock portfolio, it should identify the name of the bank or stock brokerage holding the assets, along with account numbers or identifying information. With a copy of the death certificate, the bank or other institution holding your loved one’s property should provide you access to those assets.
Even if you do not locate a will among the decedent’s personal property, you may find other documents that reveal what assets the decedent owned. Take time to look for bank or other statements that indicate where your loved one conducted their financial business. You can then go to the bank or business to determine what assets the decedent held there.
They may have opened an account and deposited money, obtained payable-on-death benefits for which they paid premiums, or kept property in a safe deposit box or storage. The decedent’s personal papers often will reveal evidence of these types of assets.
Legal documents that you might find among the decedent’s personal property include:
- A will
- Trust documents
- Bank statements
- Life insurance policies
- Payable-on-death accounts
- Tax returns
- Other estate planning documents that may identify property
Remember, too, that debts are considered assets in the decedent’s estate. As executor, you are responsible for paying all of the decedent’s outstanding debts. Among the decedent’s personal property, you also should look for:
- Credit card statements
- Utility or other bills
- Mortgage or rent statements
- Subscription invoices
As the executor, you will be responsible for paying the decedent’s debts and closing any accounts that remain open. Any documents relevant to any of these items will be helpful in locating your loved one’s assets and accounts.
Step 2: Search the decedent’s computer, if possible
In searching the decedent’s personal property within their home, keep an eye out for any documents or information related to electronically held assets. People often maintain digital assets with banks, online trading platforms, and other online subscriptions through a password manager.
The decedent may have recorded personal ID and password information that may provide access to some of these electronic accounts. If not, you may be able to contact the relevant providers to obtain information and access appropriate assets.
This can be a difficult and tedious process, but with the death certificate and any other necessary information, you may be able to secure any digital assets that your loved one maintained during life.
Step 3: Inquire with other relatives and friends
Even if you resided in the same home with your deceased loved one, you probably are not aware of all of their property. Especially if you did not live with the decedent, it is likely that other relatives or friends who had greater contact with the decedent will be aware of particular assets that you may not know about.
For example, perhaps a sibling knows of property the decedent kept in storage, or a neighbor may know of a car the decedent was restoring or property that the decedent let someone borrow, like tools, electronics, or sporting equipment.
All assets—no matter their value—must be identified. Friends, neighbors, and relatives who had regular contact with the decedent are often a good resource for obtaining such information.
Step 4: Inquire with local probate court and other government agencies
One step that should not be overlooked in finding a loved one’s assets is checking with the local probate court to find any records of deeds, titles, or other property interests that the decedent may have filed with the court. Such documents are usually public and are easily accessed.
Other resources that often are fruitful for identifying assets of a decedent are federal, state, and local government agencies. These might include:
- The Social Security Administration
- Other federal or state benefit programs
- The Secretary of State’s Office (including any online business filings)
There also are commercial services that conduct “hidden asset” searches for unclaimed property. You may have to pay a fee for these services, but they can save a lot of time and often identify assets that otherwise may have gone unclaimed.
Step 5: Contact the decedent’s employer
If the decedent was employed, contact their employer to inquire about any pension or retirement plans in which the decedent may have participated. Employers may be able to provide benefit information that the decedent did not maintain. Also, if the decedent was still working at the time of their death, the employer may still have possession of some of the decedent’s personal property.
The Key to Finding a Loved One’s Assets is Utilizing Available Resources
Sometimes it is difficult enough just keeping track of your own property. It is rarely the case that someone knows all of the property that their loved ones own. Finding all the assets of a loved one is a difficult task. This is why the court appoints an executor or personal representative to handle this responsibility.
If you are named as an executor of your loved one’s estate and are not aware of all the property held in their estate, follow the steps included here and use the resources available to you for locating property.