When someone dies, it is always helpful if they left a list of assets, how they are held, and where they are located. However, sometimes this doesn't happen. I am often appointed as the Personal Representative or Adminstrator of an Estate on a case where I don't know what the assets of the estate include. It becomes a scavenger hunt to locate the assets of the estate. Here are a few tips for Personal Representatives (in Massachusetts, formerly called Executors) and Adminstrators of estates to help them locate the assets included in the estate:
1. Abandoned Property: The Treasurer's office of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts keeps a list of unclaimed and abandoned property. Check out this website to determine if the decedent owned any assets that are now considered unclaimed: http://www.mass.gov/treasury/unclaimed-prop/
2. Mail: Throughout the first month or so after the death, the personal representative/ executor can watch the mail for bills in order to account for any debts owed by their loved one. You should keep checking the mail for up to one year, as this process can be slow moving. Some mail such as evidence of insurance policies, dividends, and other assets may only come to light when annual reports or tax documentation is sent out once per year.
3. Registry of Deeds: If you are not sure if the decedent owned real property, you should check the Registry of Deeds for the county that you suspect the property is located in. Many counties have this information online.
4. Bank records: Taking a look at the individual’s checkbook or bank account records can also provide important clues regarding assets and debts. For example, if the deceased was depositing a specific amount of money each month, it could be an indication that he or she has some form of income, whether it’s a job (which could have a retirement plan) or rental property (that needs to be included in the estate) or even a personal loan made to a third party that is being repaid in installments.
5. Income Tax Returns: As the personal representative of the estate, it is a good idea to check with the IRS to find out if income tax returns were filed in the past few years. The income tax return will provide many clues about income producing assets that the decedent owned. You also need to ensure that all income tax obligations are met before you distribute the assets of the estate.
6. Address Book/ Contact List: Finally, the executor should also take a look through the deceased’s personal address book. Names of lawyers, insurance agents, and bankers/financial advisors should definitely be noted to be contacted.
As you uncover the assets of the estate, your probate lawyer will help you create an inventory of the estate assets. It is critical that you keep an accurate accounting to comply with the probate laws of Massachusetts.
The attorneys at Senior Solutions assist Personal Representatives of Estates in Greater Boston and South Shore of Massachusetts in fulfilling their responsibliites under the law. In addition, we frequently serve as the named Personal Representative of estates. Senior Solutions is an Elder Law and Estate Planning Law Firm serving the Boston, Massachusetts area. We meet with clients in either our Belmont or Hingham offices.