Help! My Parent Has Died, and I Don’t Know Where to Begin

It is not unusual for our office to receive calls from a recent decedent’s family members who have little knowledge of their loved one’s assets and debts. They are often at a loss as to where to begin to find that information.

To facilitate their search, we recommend going through the following checklist:

1. Safe Deposit Box

If you have access to the box, review and inventory it for asset information and documentation, such as real estate deeds, car or boat titles, life insurance policies, and stock certificates. If you do not have access, we can assist you in gaining access.

2. Home Files

Check for list of assets and documentation as well as debts owed to the decedent, such as mortgages, notes, or loans.

3. Wallet

Check the decedent’s wallet for miscellaneous cash, debit cards, and credit cards. You may also discover shopping club and membership cards.

4. Mail

Check for bank statements, bills, magazine subscriptions, and other financial documents.

5. Email

Today many people opt for paperless statements, so you should check your loved one’s email account for other bank, brokerage, and credit card statements and notifications.

6. Checkbook or Check Register

Review the checkbook, check register, or canceled checks for insurance premium payments, mortgage payments, car payments, and regular credit card payments. This may also be helpful to determine the existence of insurance policies and the names of attorneys or accountants through fee payments.

7. Attorney, Accountant, and/or Financial Planner

Meet with decedent’s attorney, accountant and/or financial planner to determine their knowledge of assets and debts.

8. Employer

Verify available life insurance, 401k, health savings account, pension, accrued wages, unpaid vacation/sick pay, and any beneficiary designations.

9. Government Agencies

Check for death benefits and/or pension information

10. Tax Returns

Review past income tax returns for sources of income. This may also contain information on any mortgages or student loans owed by the decedent.

11. Public Records

Review public records for real estate owned or mortgages held by the decedent.

12. Secretary of State

Contact the Secretary of State to determine whether decedent held an ownership interest in any corporation, LLC, or other business entity.

For Florida, see www.sunbiz.org. For a listing by state, see http://www.e-secretaryofstate.com.

13. State’s Unclaimed Funds Registry

Verify there are no unclaimed funds, such as escrow accounts, utility bill refunds, or unclosed bank accounts, in the decedent’s name. Check all states where the decedent lived in last ten years.

For Florida, see www.fltreasurehunt.gov. For a listing by state, see www.unclaimed.org

14. Personal Property

Photograph each room of the decedent’s home, including furniture and close-up photos of any collections and jewelry.

For more information or assistance with your family’s final affairs, please call the Marks Gray probate department at (904) 807-2169.