When a loved one dies, family members with access to the deceased’s personal belongings frequently search for a will or other official documents. A will should include all of a person’s property, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the records can’t be found or just aren’t there. When this happens, you can start with local banks and work your way up to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s (FDIC) online search tools.
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What happens to a bank account when someone dies?
What happens to a bank account after someone dies depends on a few factors, such as the type of account and whether there was a will or not.
Will or account beneficiary
A payable on death (POD) account, also known as a transfer on death (TOD) account, is one in which many banks allow their customers to designate a beneficiary. When the bank learns of the account holder’s passing, it releases the funds to the designated beneficiary if one was named by the account holder. The financial institution usually closes the account after that.
If there’s no named beneficiary and there was no other account holder, the account will likely need to go through probate, which is the court-ordered process of settling debts and distributing assets to heirs.
In general, if an account has what is known as the right of survivorship, all the money goes to the spouse who survives. If not, the deceased owner’s estate is given the portion of the account that belongs to them. This may be the spouse, but it could also be someone else specified in a will.
Executor of the estate
The executor of the estate is in charge of assets owned by the deceased, including money in bank accounts. If there is no will, the state appoints an executor based on local law. The executor uses the funds in the account to pay creditors of the estate before distributing the money in accordance with local inheritance laws.
How to find assets of a deceased person
When assets like bank accounts go unclaimed for a certain period of time, the funds are automatically sent to the state’s unclaimed property division. Although you can claim funds from there, it’s important to take the time to locate them before this happens.
Finding assets that beneficiaries might be unaware of is easy with the help of tax returns. If there are no copies of the tax return in the home or safe deposit box, you complete IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, if you are the executor or beneficiary of the estate.
Contact their bank
If you’re on the account as a beneficiary, contact their bank. You will need to submit a death certificate and proof of identification. If you are unsure of where they banked, you can stop by banks near their home and request an asset search. In addition to identification and a death certificate, you’ll need to show probate court paperwork proving you are the executor of the estate.
Contact their employer
Your loved one’s last employer may have their banking information on file for direct deposit purposes. Have all documentation handy when you reach out to their human resources department.
Search through their home
Check the home for bank statements, checkbooks or ATM receipts to help you locate bank accounts. Keep an eye out for records or information pertaining to electronically held assets when searching the home. People often manage their online banking, online trading platforms, and other online subscriptions through a password manager.
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators is a non-profit organization affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers. Each state is responsible for locating and maintaining the databases you will be searching. It usually takes some time before assets are sent to the state, but this method is a great way to find hidden accounts.
MissingMoney.com is a federally endorsed site that acts as a sort of clearinghouse, compiling data from participating states. It’s free to search and claim.
The Bureau of the Fiscal Service is a government site that features a searchable database of various types of unclaimed accounts.
Note: If you want someone to help you with the claims process, companies exist that can do so for a fee. However, you do not require anyone’s assistance in searching the state for your unclaimed property nor must you hire a service to assist you in filing a claim.
What to know about claiming assets and bank accounts of a deceased person
Once you’re able to locate the bank account, you’ll need proper documentation to prove death and your right to the funds.
Banks typically require a certified copy of the death certificate that includes the cause of death. You’ll likely need certified copies for all accounts and legal matters, so you’ll want to make sure you get several copies.
Gather as much personal information as you can about the deceased, including their full name, social security number, date of birth, and address.
Hiring an estate attorney
If there is no will or beneficiary on a sole bank account, consider contacting an estate attorney to determine if probate is necessary. Although you can complete the probate requirement of an estate without an attorney, you’ll want to ensure you fully understand the process and procedures before moving forward. Each state has specific probate requirements.
Bottomline for beneficiaries
Locating a deceased person’s bank account may require some effort, but it’s not an impossible task. Once you’ve tracked down the accounts, you’ll need to submit the necessary paperwork and documentation to claim assets or state the probate process.
How do I find a deceased person’s hidden bank account?
To find a deceased person’s bank account, begin searching their home for financial records, including bank statements, tax returns, or a will. You can also search their state’s unclaimed property database for accounts you couldn’t find.
Can you check a deceased person’s bank account?
You cannot check a deceased person’s bank account unless you’re listed on the account. If you are a beneficiary, you will have access to the funds in the account once you provide the bank with the required documentation.
Can beneficiaries see bank accounts?
Beneficiaries can’t access bank accounts or view them until after the owner dies.