How Do I Collect Estate Assets?
An Executor or Administrator of an Estate must collect estate assets in order to preserve them from waste and depreciation and to prevent the assets from being stolen. The Executor or Administrator should take actual possession and control of all personal property and keep it safe. The goal of the fiduciary is to collect estate estate assets as quickly as possible. Possession of property can be obtained in various ways, depending upon its nature. The first step, however, is often to locate the assets.
Search for and Collect Estate Assets
People often ask me how to find and collect estate assets.
In order to locate assets, you should look through the Decedent’s mail for statements.You should also contact their accountant and ask for copies of the Decedent’s tax returns. Typically the 1099s will be attached to the back of the tax returns. You can contact each financial institution for which the Decedent has received a 1099. You should also check unclaimed funds for any money that was sent to the State. If you find loose stock certificates, or if the person is older, contact Computershare, to find out if they are the transfer agent for any of the Decedent’s stocks. You should also check the Decedent’s financial institutions for a safe deposit box. Check the Decedent’s house for financial records, artwork, and tangible property that may have value. At times, the Decedent’s tangible assets mah have saleable value. Consider contacting an estate dealer or specialist regarding saleable value. You can also carefully read the Decedent’s Last Will and Testament as it may make mention of specific items of tangible property that you should be on the look out for.
After locating the Decedent’s assets, you will need to transfer the assets that do not pass by operation of law to the estate in order to collect Decedent’s assets. Certain property, such as bank accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, and insurance proceeds, may require specific documentation in order to be transferred to the decedent’s estate. The fiduciary should contact each financial institution to inquire about the exact documentation required. While the documents may vary for each institution, there are certain basic documents that are usually required, as discussed below.
Collect Estate Assets – Bank Accounts
Banks generally require the following documents to transfer a bank account to the estate:
- The account number for the decedent’s account;
- If the Decedent had a savings passbook, then the bank will want the passbook
- A withdrawal slip, signed by the fiduciary;
- A signature card signed by the fiduciary;
- A current certificate of letters testamentary or letters of administration; and
- A certified copy of the death certificate.
Upon presentation of the necessary documents, the bank will transfer the account to the estate. The fiduciary can then collect all of the money and place it in one estate account.
Collect Decedent’s Life Insurance
If the Decedent had life insurance and did not designate a beneficiary or did not place the policy into a life insurance trust, then the fiduciary will need to collect this asset. The fiduciary will need to provide the following:
- The insurance policy or a lost policy affidavit (though not all insurance companies require return of the policy);
- The insurance claim forms as provided by the insurance company, completed and signed by the fiduciary;
- A certified copy of the death certificate; and
- Current certificate of letters testamentary or letters of administration.
The life insurance company will then mail a check payable to the Estate. The fiduciary can deposit this check into the estate account.
Collect Decedent’s Securities
Stocks, bonds, mortgages and other securities registered in the name of the decedent should be transferred to the estate. The documents that will be needed depend on the transfer agent or institution. In general, the fiduciary will need: However, the following documents are normally required:
- The stock certificates registered in the decedent’s name
- Forms to be filled out that are provided by the transfer agent. Some of these forms may need to be medallion guaranteed.
- Current certificate of letters testamentary or letters of administration; and
- A certified copy of the death certificate.
After the securities have been transferred to the fiduciary, then they may be transferred to the beneficiaries of the estate. The securities will have to be transferred twice – once to the estate and once to the beneficiaries.
Collect Decedent’s Digital Assets
Fiduciaries have the same obligation to marshal and protect a decedent’s digital assets as they do to marshal and protect any other asset of the decedent. Some websites or service providers (such as Facebook, and Google) may provide an online tool (such as a legacy account, or an inactive manager) so that the user can provide directions and authority for the administrator to access the deceased user’s assets. If there is no such tool, then the fiduciary would have to contact the service provider to get access. To access the content of the decedent’s electronic communications, the fiduciary should make a written request for disclosure in either physical or electronic form with a copy of the decedent’s death certificate, certificate of letters, and if the decedent did not so provide in an online tool, a copy of the decedent’s will directing disclosure to the fiduciary or if the will is silent, a finding by the court that the disclosure is reasonably necessary for the administration of the decedent’s estate. Upon presentation of the above, the fiduciary has the same rights to access the decedent’s electronic communications as the decedent himself had
Collect Estate Assets – Savings Bonds
The fiduciary must submit certain documents to the Federal Reserve Bank to transfer U.S. Savings bonds to the estate when the bonds do not include a beneficiary designation or when the named beneficiary has predeceased the decedent. These documents are as follows:
- The bonds (if the bonds are to be sold, the fiduciary must provide his signature on the reverse side, with his signature guaranteed.);
- The appropriate Federal Reserve form, properly executed, with signature guaranteed;
- A certified copy of the death certificate;
- A current certificate of letters testamentary or letters of administration, if the bonds are in the decedent’s name alone; and
- An affidavit stating that the decedent is the individual named on the bonds, when the name on the bonds differs from that on the death certificate.
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