If a loved one passes away, you might have questions regarding how to find assets they owned at the time of their death. Identifying the assets of a deceased person can be challenging, especially if they didn’t have a formal estate plan in place when they died.
As a beneficiary of your loved one’s estate, you might be wondering the following:
- Whether your deceased loved one owned any checking, savings, or certificate of deposit (CD) accounts
- Whether the deceased owned an ownership interest in publicly traded corporations or privately held entities
- The existence and whereabouts of life insurance policies, annuities, and retirement or investment accounts
Unfortunately, there isn’t a central database where you can find out what someone owned when they died. However, there are ways to dig up the information and uncover a deceased person’s assets. Here’s how:
What documents will you need to find a deceased person’s assets?
It’s not necessary to have every document listed below, but it will help streamline the process.
- Copy of their will (if they had one)
- Death certificate
- Social security number of the deceased
- Address and phone number of the deceased
Be aware that only the executor of a deceased person’s estate can collect information on property that isn’t in the will, such as bank accounts and life insurance.
Types of assets
There are many types of assets your loved one could have left behind, such as:
- Real estate
- Bank accounts (checking, savings, CDs)
- Retirement accounts (401k, IRAs, pension plans)
- Investment (brokerage) accounts
- Individual stocks
- Life insurance policies
- Safe deposit boxes
- Digital currencies
- Collectible items
- Business interests
Tips on how to find assets of a deceased person
There are many ways to uncover a deceased person’s assets, though the process can be time-consuming. Here are some tips to help you gather the right information.
Check their desk and computer
Many people have a desk or office area where they keep their important documents. When checking the deceased person’s computer, be sure to review their email, bookmarks, and browser history. Be on the lookout for references to specific financial institutions or former employers, as it might lead to information regarding their assets.
You can find details regarding your loved one’s assets on their tax returns. Try to locate and review their tax returns for the last five years to get the full picture of their financial situation.
A tax return includes information on the deceased person’s income from employers and any distributions from investment accounts, pensions, and annuities. It will also show whether they had any business income. It can be tricky to locate assets on a tax return, so you might consider hiring an accountant for this part.
Pay Stubs and W2 forms
Pay stubs and W2 forms can help determine if your loved one contributed to a retirement account, pension, or other benefits through their employer. The forms should also have information regarding whether your loved one had a life insurance policy through the company.
Bank account statements
Check your loved one’s mail for bank and investment account statements, as this is one of the most common ways people find out about a deceased person’s assets. An account statement will include details on the financial institution, contact information, and the type of account, such as checking, savings, or retirement. The statement might also have the account balance and an itemized list of assets (such as a list of stocks owned in an investment account).
Call their current and former employers
Your loved one’s current and former employers should be able to share basic information with you, such as whether your loved one contributed to a retirement account or pension while employed at their company. They will also tell you if your loved one had a life insurance policy and whether it’s still active.
Contact town offices
You may find information regarding assets, property, or business interests owned by the deceased by contacting your town’s Register of Deeds and Town Clerk’s office. Your city or town may have an online portal to make the search more manageable.
Go through their home
Your loved one’s home is one of the first places you should look for information regarding their assets. Be on the lookout for a safe, as many people keep important paperwork locked away. Some people aren’t trusting of banks, so it doesn’t hurt to look under mattresses and in drawers. This is also an opportunity to take inventory of furniture, collectibles, or other valuables.
What if the deceased named an executor?
Uncovering assets is more straightforward if the deceased person designates an executor for their estate. For example, let’s say your mother passed away with a valid will that names you as the executor.
Once you work with a lawyer and the courts to get confirmed as the executor, the judge will issue certified copies of a court document that describes your authority as executor. You can then contact each financial institution where you think your mother may have had an account — the court document requires the third parties to disclose the deceased’s account information to the executor.
Your estate settlement attorney can help you get the proper court authority and make the right inquiries to expedite this process. Ideally, none of this is necessary if the deceased person maintained a current inventory of their assets and communicated those details to their loved ones during their lifetime.
The bottom line
Uncovering the assets of a deceased person can be time-consuming since it often involves tracking down accounts across multiple financial institutions. However, there are ways to identify missing assets by reviewing the deceased's tax returns, contacting current and former employers, and checking their mail for account statements.