A frequent request I receive when working with a client on a probate or administration matter is to help them locate all of the assets in the estate. They want to make sure they collect all of the accounts, policies, and real property that their loved one left behind, but they may not know what exactly is in their estate. Unfortunately, estate attorneys don’t have access to a list of all of the assets owned by an individual when they pass away. Instead, we rely on a handful of tools which help us piece together the story of what a loved one owned when they died. This article will highlight a few of the most important tools.
Going Through Mail:
I often say that finding assets is a bit like a Sherlock Holmes mystery in that clues have to be gleaned from all available sources. The most important one would be the mail of the decedent. It will provide you with monthly, quarterly, and yearly statements for bank accounts, investment accounts, life insurance polices, IRA’s and other assets. You will also be able to see policy documents, and share holder meeting notifications which can be used to locate assets. Other helpful documents to look out for are 1099’s which are issued in the beginning of the year and will help you locate the sources of income such as interest bearing accounts. You may also find bills which will indicate not only which debts have to be paid, but also which assets may exist such as real estate or vehicles or life insurance policies.
Looking Through Their Home or Office:
Many time important documents are left in plain site or otherwise accessible by simply looking through the personal effects of the decedent in their home or office. Make sure to look through all paperwork for information about possible assets. Also be sure to look inside safe deposit boxes as many important documents are typically held in those boxes.
Speaking to the Decedent’s Neighbors, Lawyers, and Financial Advisors:
Believe it or not, a neighbor may know more about the assets of a decedent than a family member. We often see this when the family has been estranged or physically distant from the decedent. A chat with neighbors will reveal where they banked, what they owned, and where their personal belongings may have been kept. Similarly, the decedent’s attorney, particularly an estate planning attorney if they had one, would have information about their assets since it was part of the estate planning process. Financial advisors would have a treasure trove of information about accounts and policies and should be located and consulted as soon as possible.
When accounts lay dormant for a year or more, they typically get referred to the New York State’s Comptroller’s Unclaimed Funds division. Their website, https://www.osc.state.ny.us/ouf, should be used to search for the decedent’s name to see if any funds have been turned over. In addition, I recommend that it be searched every 6 months until you are sure all assets have been located as it is constantly being updated. A person does not have to be deceased in order for their funds to be listed with their office, and it is a good idea for everyone reading this article to do a periodic search for their names.
Prior Tax Returns
Looking through old tax returns will identify past 1099’s, K1s, and other sources of income which can be used to locate assets. It therefore important to contact the decedent’s tax preparer for a copy of past returns. If the taxes were self prepared, the IRS can provide transcripts of past returns here:
New York State Policy Searches:
Often times a family will know that their loved one had an annuity or life insurance policy but will not know the institution which held it. The New York State Department of Financial Services allows families to locate unclaimed life insurance policies and annuity contracts by filling out information which can be accessed here: https://myportal.dfs.ny.gov/web/guest-applications/lost-policy-finder
If you have lost a loved one and are looking for assistance in locating, collecting, and distributing their assets, contact the Law Offices of Roman Aminov, P.C. for a free phone consultation at 347-766-2685.
Law Offices of Roman Aminov
Located in the heart of Queens, our firm helps our clients work through every aspect of estate planning & probate law. We are a client first firm focusing on helping out families and securing them brighter futures. We have years of experience dealing with wills, trusts, probate, estate administration, medicaid planning and more. Contact us now at: Law Offices Of Roman Aminov 147-17 Union Tpke, Flushing, NY 11367 (347) 766-2685 aminovlaw.com