When someone passes away, close family and friends often have questions about the decedent’s assets. Family members may wonder about a certain heirloom or other possessions that have been handed down in the family. Or, in many cases, the decedent may have owned a home or car or have other belongings to be distributed according to their will. Once the estate has been probated, all of these items are available for consideration and distribution. Read on for additional guidance on assessing a decedent’s assets.
Understand the Scope
After the death of a loved one, all assets need to be tabulated to learn if probate or another process is necessary to close out the estate. It is very important that the personal representative identify all assets of the decedent to put toward the payment of debts and obligations of the estate and distribution to any heirs. Even though a specific item (including a house) may have been “willed” to an heir, that item may still be considered an asset of the estate and subject to the payment of debts. Consult a qualified attorney if you have questions about your situation.
Search for Assets
Locating and assessing the decedent’s assets may prove more difficult than expected. Some points to consider:
If the decedent left a will, it’s likely that some of the assets will be listed in that document. Use it to guide you in your search and valuation of assets.
If no will exists, look through the decedent’s records to learn of established relationships with organizations that may be involved in the decedent’s assets. For example, perhaps the decedent had a summer or country home, but you are not sure where it is located. Search the decedent’s records for mortgage information or legal documents to help uncover information that may be relevant.
In addition, a search for real property using the decedent’s social security number may locate additional assets.
A review of financial statements from bank accounts, IRAs and other financial institutions may also reveal assets. Tax returns can also be helpful for finding sources of income unknown to close family and friends.
If you are acting as personal representative for the decedent, you can contact the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. (Please note: They will require a request in writing and a copy of the death certificate.)
Check the decedent’s credit report. It will list all the credit accounts in the decedent’s name.
If you are acting as personal representative for the decedent and are not their spouse, the credit agency may also require proof that you have been appointed personal representative of the estate.
In either case, make sure to ask the credit agency to mark the accounts as “deceased” to avoid any possibility of identity theft.
Consider assets that are less obvious such as:
security deposits on property or rentals
frequent flyer miles and credit card incentives
royalties, copyrights or patents
money that may have been overpaid on accounts
You can also hire a company to search records. There are several companies that offer online asset searches, scouring public records looking for property information as well as unclaimed checks that the government or a former employer may have.
Finally, talk to family and friends of the decedent to find other assets you may not have yet discovered. This can be a sensitive topic, especially if there are beneficiaries named in the will who would benefit should an asset be undervalued or not discovered. (Please note: In cases like this, it’s vital to remember the decedent and realize that their memory is far more important than conflicts that may arise over assets. Infighting among family members is common, especially if the decedent passes away with significant wealth. It’s easy to get caught up in such conflicts, so it helps to make the decedent’s wishes the top priority.)