“How to locate and organize the financial assets of a deceased loved one”
Scott Cleveland – 4c Financial Group, LLC
Unraveling the financial affairs of a deceased friend or family member can be very difficult. Even an organized person can leave behind some unresolved financial issues. Having worked in the financial services field for more than 25 years, I have developed some practical experience in helping people sort out the affairs of the deceased. The following is my recommendation on how to locate and organize the information needed.
The records of the deceased live on in old files, bank statements, brokerage accounts, insurance policies, and other nooks and crannies.
Where to begin? You must have the legal authority to access these types of records from the various financial institutions and agencies you will be dealing with (more on this later). Assuming this is true, a good place to start is the personal paper files of the deceased (if available). The idea is to go through the available information and start to compile a raw list of the assets.
The format I use is outlined as follows;
# Institution Name Account # Balance Contact Notes
The idea is to build the list prior to determining the current status of each item. You may uncover old accounts and policies that no longer hold any value. Until you find out for sure it is a good idea to include all of the items on the master list.
It is quite common to feel overwhelmed while going through decades of old financial records. Take your time and sort similar documents / accounts into “like” piles, for example.
Bank / Credit Union accounts = one pile
Tax Returns = one pile
Investment Accounts = one pile
Insurance / Annuities = one pile
Legal Documents = one pile
Former Employer information = one pile
Personal effects = one pile
Now that you have a base list you most likely are wondering if you “missed” anything important? The best places to look involve the following documents.
Bank / Credit Cards and Credit Union Statements
Banking and Credit Union Statements, Etc.
Financial institutions will NOT give you records (or information regarding the account) without you providing the following 2 items.
Proof of your legal authority to acquire the information, for example The courts have recognized you as the trustee or personal representative of the deceased. You may not need this if you are listed as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship (JWROS) or a named beneficiary on an annuity or retirement account.
A certified official death certificate (ask the funeral home, coroner, or county records department for AT LEAST 12 copies). You will need them to settle accounts at each and every financial institution.
Bank / credit card and Credit Union statements are a gold mine of information of a person’s financial cash flows. Review ALL inflows or deposits and cross reference against your master list. Most often you will find the majority of income sources going into a checking or savings type of account. These cash flows could include pension income, Social Security, IRA distributions, rents, royalties, dividends, interest earned, and others. Each deposit should correspond to an item or source on your master list! The larger deposits are normally the easiest to identify, but what about something you can’t quite figure out? More on that in a moment. Next, you will want to look at the outflows.
Look for life insurance, long term care, or health insurance payments. Again, all insurance premiums must be paid for, from somewhere. Some will be monthly and others could be a single annual payment (possibly by credit card). You may also uncover payments for investments or other things that lack clarity, just add a new mystery item to the master list for now. Look closely for any payments to accounting or bookkeeping firms, this could be the key to uncovering the next best source of information tax returns.
Your deceased friend or loved one may not have kept good records, but the IRS certainly does! If you can get a copy of the deceased most recent income tax returns this will be a good cross reference to the items discovered.
Tax returns should be reviewed to determine ALL current and previous sources of income of the deceased. Cross reference all W-2’s, K-1, 1099, rental income, and any other income producing activity to your master list, by doing this you will rarely miss any substantial assets the deceased owned.
What about an asset that was owned, but not currently producing reportable income (such as a deferred annuity)? There is most likely an old piece of paper with an account number on it in all those piles we sorted out earlier. When in doubt contact the institution to determine the status of any mystery or possible asset, they can use the deceased’s social security number in lieu of an account number.
My final suggestion is to locate the assets of personal property like jewelry, antiques, collections, artwork, etc. Rule number one, secure them immediately!! (they tend to go missing, usually in a hurry, by unidentified parties, sometimes within hours or minutes). What to do if they can no longer be accounted for? Look for a detailed list from the deceased’s property insurance schedule.
Most people have a rider on their policy that lists (and covers) valuable items. This can be a great help in finding and sometimes recovering the value of any missing items. Don’t be afraid to contact the police if anything has gone missing – usually the missing / disputed item will be returned without involving the authorities.
It is also a good idea to contact former employers of the deceased to locate death benefits and survivor benefits. Financial advisors, and former accountants can also be of great help. These methods should produce a record of 98 to 99% of the assets of the deceased. If you miss anything, it is most likely an insignificant item (financially speaking).
Now that you have completed the master list you can lookup each entity to obtain contact information. The best way to save time is to call each organization and ask for a claims department or similar to discuss the process of closing or transferring the account to the beneficiary. Ask for a list of ALL the items requested and take good notes. There may be special forms to complete and a fair amount of detail to provide, but eventually they will help you settle the accounts of the deceased.
Good luck in your efforts.
4c Financial Group, LLC
46 Eagle River St. Ste. 100
Eagle, ID 83616