Sometimes if a person dies, the assets they have are not clear. This usually is because the deceased person did not organise financial documents well, but other times it is because the person intentionally kept finances private. When a parent dies, it is especially important to check into what assets are available, as you may be entitled to those assets as a direct heir.
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Things you need
- Father's Social Security number
- Certificate of death
Look through your father's belongings. Check for bank account statements, property deeds, life insurance policies, your father's will and similar documents. If you're fortunate, your father will have kept these documents neatly in a filing cabinet or desk drawer. However, you may need to look through any stacks of papers that have been left and open any mail.
Go to the bank with which your father did business. Explain that your father has passed away and, if necessary, provide the bank with a copy of the death certificate. (Some banks will not release financial information unless you can show the account holder is deceased. Others require that only the executor of the state present the death certificate.) Inquire as to whether your father had a safety deposit box at the bank. Even if he kept all his documents at home, other valuables such as jewellery may be in the deposit box.
Visit your local probate court clerk's office. Have the clerk do a search for all records relating to your father's assets. These documents usually are a matter of public record, although there may be fees for the services the clerk provides.
Contact the insurance companies with whom your father held policies. Find out the amount of the policies and the names of all beneficiaries. Again, you'll probably need to provide a death certificate. Do not assume that policies aside from life insurance should be ignored as assets. Many policies give the option of setting up cash value accounts, which means that some of the premiums paid are set aside for the policy holder.
Contact your father's last employer. Speak with an HR representative to determine what retirement benefits, if any, your father had.
Contact federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and Secretary of State that might have provided income to your father or been involved in business registrations. These agencies can tell you the monthly payment amount your father received and tell you the bank or address to which those funds were sent. Your state's unclaimed property office also may list funds associated with your father's estate.
Tips and warnings
- Talk with friends and relatives at every step of the process. They often know data that your father might not have written down, such as the name of the agent that handled your father's life insurance.
- Because documentation increasingly is done electronically, don't forget to check your father's computer for records. If you find a list of passwords in your personal belongings search, take it with you, as it likely will contain what you need to access electronic accounts.
- Get your father's Social Security number before you start your work. You'll need this with many agencies.
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