When a beloved member of the family passes away without a will, heirs are left with a mystery that requires creative thinking to solve.
Put on your detective hat if a loved one passed away with no will or estate plan. According to MarketWatch in "My wealthy grandmother left no will — how do we find her stocks and bonds?," you are going to need to think like an investigator, looking for clues in the most unexpected places.
The executor may have to do a lot of gumshoeing.
You can contact grandma's estate planning lawyer, if she had one, as well as anyone who had access to her home—like housekeepers, friends, and other relatives. You can also see if she had a safe deposit box at her bank and watch the mail for updates on any accounts.
According to recent research, women in particular are often faced with this problem when their spouse dies. Women are also less likely to know the terms of their spouse's life insurance policy (57% versus 69% of men) and less likely to locate family financial documents in an emergency (32% versus 21% of men).
To avoid putting your loved ones in this position, make sure that your financial documents are in a place where they can be located easily when you die. Unfortunately, there's no law that says we have to make out a master list of where our assets are located. The deceased had to have independently made a list. Also, it's not unusual for assets to go undiscovered: grandma may have had a bank account in northern Minnesota or a timeshare in Hawaii. If there's no documentation, you'd never know.
State law usually appoints the closest living relative to be the administrator, or a relative can file papers to begin probate proceedings. This is a court appointed process that will include conducting an inventory of all assets and paying debts and taxes. A far better way to go? Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare the necessary documents. Also, put your important papers in order and have a conversation with your loved ones so that they will be better prepared.
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