Once an account holder dies, it is up to the executor or administrator of the estate to track down the accounts and transfer them to the estate. The executor eventually pass the investments to the designated heirs and beneficiaries, or sells them to settle the estate's debts. If the decedent kept good records, the task of the executor or administrator, also known as a personal representative in some states, is much easier.
The first step is receiving legal permission from the probate court to handle estate administration. If the decedent left a will, the executor brings the original document along with a certified copy of the death certificate to the probate court in the county in which the decedent resided. The court then formally appoints the executor and issues letters testamentary, which allows the executor to handle all estate matters. If the decedent died intestate, or without a will, the court appoints an administrator for the estate and issues letters of administration.
Among the personal representative's duties is inventorying all assets of the estate, with the value on the date of the decedent's death. The investment account representative should be able to verify the value of investments on a certain date. The personal representative must supply the investment account representative with a certified copy of the death certificate. He must also supply letters to transfer assets to the decedent's estate account for any accounts titled solely in the decedent's name.
The personal representative and the investment account representative must track how the accounts are titled. Any accounts the decedent held jointly with right of survivorship become the property of the joint account holder. Real property held jointly also goes to the survivor, but if held as tenants in common, the decedent's percentage of ownership is part of the estate. If the account is titled as payable on death or transfer upon death to a named beneficiary, the funds are not part of the estate, and go to the beneficiary.
The personal representative has the right to access the decedent's personal papers and computer accounts. If the personal representative is a relative of the decedent, such as the surviving spouse or child, tracking such assets may be easier if knowing where the deceased kept records. Check the decedent's income tax returns for the previous year for recent investment account information. The decedent's mail should be forwarded so the personal representative receives all financial statements.
- American Bar Association: Guidelines for Individual Executors and Trustees
- Financial Web: Probate Tasks of the Executor
- Federal Trade Commission. "Debts and Deceased Relatives." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020.
- Hanscom Federal Credit Union. "Here's The Difference Between An Heir And A Beneficiary." Accessed Oct. 13, 2020.
- HG.org Legal Resources. "What Happens to an IRA With No Beneficiary Designation?" Accessed Oct. 13, 2020.
A graduate of New York University, Jane Meggitt's work has appeared in dozens of publications, including Sapling, Zack's, Financial Advisor, nj.com, LegalZoom and The Nest.