If a loved one has died then you may be tasked with settling the estate. Among other things, this will require you to take on the responsibilities of securing and, eventually, distributing assets of the estate to the decedent's heirs. Instructions for settling the estate are often laid out in a will. However, many wills are outdated and far too many people don't have any wills at all. That can leave you in a difficult position whereby you may not actually know what assets actually make up the estate or how to go about securing them. In such a situation you will need to uncover these unknown or hidden assets. Here are a few ways you can do just that.
First, secure the property
It's a good idea to collect all keys to the decedent's house as soon as possible. If that's not possible, you may need to consider changing the locks on the property. This measure is extremely important not only because it ensures that people who aren't entitled to a share of the estate don't walk into the decedent's home and take what's not theirs, but it also ensures that important legal and financial documents that may be on the property are secured. These documents, such as bank statements and legal correspondence, could provide vital clues for tracking down unknown assets.
Find the hiding places
The first thing you will want to search for in the house is a safe. If you don't have keys or the code for the safe then you will need to contact a professional locksmith. A locksmith can usually unlock a safe for you so long as you provide proof that you are the executor of the estate. Other common hiding places around the house can include under (or even inside) mattresses, closets, pantries, cold rooms, the attic, and in dressers and cabinets. Be sure to search the entire house for nooks and crannies where the decedent may have hidden important documents and assets.
Many states also have databases for unclaimed property, which can include bank accounts and other financial assets that the decedent may have opened long ago but then forgot about. Unclaimed property can, in some instances, add up to quite a substantial amount. Laws concerning unclaimed property vary from state to state, but there's usually a deadline by which such property needs to be claimed before it becomes the property of the government.
Hidden asset search
Finally, talk to a forensic accountant or an attorney about conducting a hidden asset search. This is especially important if the decedent was a wealthy or moderately well-off individual who may have been hiding assets for tax purposes, such as overseas bank accounts. A hidden assets search will help uncover assets that would not be made visible through a simple search of the deceased's property.
Settling an estate can be especially difficult if you don't know what or where all of the assets of that estate are. However, as the above article shows, there are plenty of ways you can uncover a decedent's unknown and hidden assets so as to ensure the estate is settled fairly and properly.