Following the death of a relative, you will often have the job of tracking down bank accounts and other assets the person left behind. This can be tricky, especially if your relative didn't leave an organized paper trail. Fortunately, there are some online resources to help you find the missing money so you can transfer it to the rightful heir.
Comb Through Financial Records
Start by looking through your relative's financial records, if any of that is still available. Ideally, you're looking for statements, passbooks or correspondence regarding bank accounts that are, or might be, still open. Tax returns are good sources of information since they often include bank account details; look in the "interest paid" section to identify the banks where savings earned interest. You can order copies of tax returns using IRS Form 4506. Include a copy of the death certificate and the fee to obtain multiple years' returns.
Check Local Banks
Many people choose to bank locally so they have better access to their money. Your next step, then, is to visit banks near your relative's home and request an asset search. Banks will perform this service for executors and beneficiaries, so you'll need to show a certified copy of the death certificate and paperwork from the probate court. If the search locates a live account, ask the staff what you need to do to access the funds. Your relative might have set up a "payable on death" notation, for example, which names the beneficiary who gets the account after the death of the owner.
Finding Deceased Bank Accounts Online
The free website MissingMoney.com lets you check for lost, unclaimed and missing money including bank accounts and safe deposit box contents that haven't been accessed for an extended period. Search by typing in your deceased relative's name and state, or leave the state field empty to search in all 50 states. This is a good option if your relative lived in multiple locations. Only the rightful heir can claim the property; you'll need to produce identification and the probate paperwork when you file a claim.
Search Failed Banks at the FDIC
If your relative has an account with a recently failed bank, you'll need to contact the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC has an online search tool that helps people locate funds in this situation. To run a search, visit the FDIC website, and use its BankFind tool to search institutions.
Hire an Asset Recovery Service
If all else fails, hire an asset recovery service to run the search for you. Finding deceased people's bank accounts is all part of a day’s work for investigators, who can often trace and recover bank accounts very quickly in multiple jurisdictions. Their services probably won't come cheap, but they could be useful in large, complex cases where your relative might have left bank accounts all over the world.
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A former corporate real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and personal finance, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.