As an executor, your most important task is to find the deceased’s assets and debts. However, if they didn’t keep good records, where on earth should you start?
Where do assets hide?
If someone died without a will, you will have to do your best to find their assets, hidden and obvious. It is your duty to report and distribute these assets to beneficiaries. This includes debts that are owed to the deceased.
The best place to start is the decedent’s home, residence or properties. Carefully search for the following:
- Previous tax statements
- Recent mail from insurance agencies
- Personal letters, emails
- House safes
- Keys to vehicles
These are great indicators of assets. They might lead to insurance policies, investments or indications of debt owed to the decedent. Be sure to thoroughly search electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and phones for additional clues.
In addition, check the local post office for P.O. boxes and banks for safety deposit boxes. Check banks in places such the decedent’s home town, parent’s, ex-spouse’s or sibling’s town. If they moved recently from another state, this will complicate your investigation.
What do you do with hidden assets?
Some people hide assets for the purposes of tax evasion. Other people distrust bank institutions, authorities or other family members and hide assets as a misguided DIY investment strategy.
When this happens, the decedent might lose track of their assets or hide them in unusual places in their homes. If you find unexpected assets in the attic, basement, shed or anywhere else, you are obligated to share this information with the beneficiaries. A legal or financial advisor could assist you in distributing these.
Assets can be distributed even after an estate has been closed or passed through probate court. It might require a legal advisor, but the beneficiaries are entitled to their inheritance and you have a fiduciary duty to inform them of their inheritance.