When a beloved family member passes without a will or estate plan, heirs are left with a mystery that requires creative thinking to solve.
If a loved one passes away with no will or estate plan it's not unusual for assets to go undiscovered: grandma may have had a bank account in northern Minnesota or a timeshare in Hawaii. If there's no documentation, you'd never know. According to a recent MarketWatch article "My wealthy grandmother left no will—how do we find her stocks and bonds?," you may need to think like an investigator—looking for clues in the most unexpected places. So, call Sherlock, put on your detective hat and get sleuthing!
First step: Talk to everyone you can. Contact grandma's estate planning lawyer, if she had one, as well as anyone who had access to her home—like housekeepers, friends, and other relatives.
Second: Watch the mail for at least three months to catch monthly or quarterly statements on any accounts. You can also check with grandma’s bank to see if she had a safe deposit box.
Third, Probate: Many banks and financial institutions will not disclose any information unless you are formally authorized to administer your grandma’s estate. State law usually appoints the closest living relative to be the administrator, or a relative can file papers to begin probate proceedings. Probate administration is a court appointed process that will include conducting an inventory of all assets and paying debts and taxes.
There is a better way! Avoid putting your loved ones in the position of treasure hunter, make sure your financial documents are in a place that is easily located after you die. While no law requires us to make a master list of asset locations—it is a good idea to make one. Also, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare the necessary documents. Put your important papers in order and have a conversation with your loved ones so that they will know where to look and be better prepared.
For more information about this and many other estate planning topics, see our website. If you are ready to start your estate plan, or if you want to review and make sure all is well, we invite you to talk with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.
Reference: MarketWatch (April 30, 2016) "My wealthy grandmother left no will — how do we find her stocks and bonds?"
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