How to Locate a Decedent's Assets through the Mail
3 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Marshalling Estate Assets
A decedent’s mail can be an important resource for an estate administrator who is in the process of marshalling the decedent’s assets. As you read the decedent’s bills, statements, and correspondence, you may find references to bank accounts, safe-deposit boxes, real estate, securities, and other assets. Bank statements and brokerage statements can be particularly helpful in locating assets that might be hard to find otherwise.
Checking the decedent’s mail also works to eliminate items that may have been on your preliminary list of the decedent’s assets. Maybe the decedent told you about an asset years ago, but through his or her mail you discover that it no longer belongs to the decedent or no longer exist.
The following sections describe two types of mail you especially want to focus on when marshalling the decedent’s assets.
Read the decedent’s bank statements
Bank statements contain a wealth of information. Not only do they give you account numbers and at least an idea of how much value the accounts contain, but they also let you know how the decedent held title to the accounts. He or she may have owned it outright (in his or her name alone), with another person, or even through a trust.
Having at least one statement from each account will make your job, as executor, easier. With a copy of your appointment by the probate court as executor, you should have no difficulty in obtaining the most current statements, as well as any prior statements you need.
The bank statements for checking accounts are especially helpful in identifying any debts the decedent might owe. Determining what a decedent’s typical monthly bills looked like can be difficult. With the checking account bank statements in hand, figuring out who’s been paid, and who’s still waiting is much easier.
You want to find the most recent bank statement to give you a general idea of the value in the account on the date of death. As soon as you know the asset exists, contact the bank directly in order to get an exact balance, including any accrued interest, as of the date of death. You need the balance with interest for both the probate inventory and the Form 706.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve found all the bank accounts, write a letter to each local bank (and each bank in any city where the decedent had a residence) inquiring whether it houses any accounts (or safe-deposit boxes) in which the decedent had an interest. You should get full cooperation if you include a copy of your appointment as executor. Don’t forget online bank accounts.
Brokerage statements: Locating and valuing securities
In most estates that contain any valuable property outside of real estate, brokerage accounts are where you find most of it. Identifying where those accounts are, and in whose names they’re registered, takes you a long way toward compiling a complete list of what the decedent owned. Remember to check for online brokerage accounts.
Brokerage statements typically give you the market value of the individual securities on the statement date. Gauging the general size of the entire estate relatively quickly is important (it determines whether you have to do a full probate or not), so find the statement closest to the date of death to get a general sense of what these assets were worth on that date.