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Friday, September 14, 2012

Where do I find the deceased's accounts and investments?

A reader has asked me a question that I hear frequently, so I'm sharing the question and my answer with all of you. Here's the question:

"When a person passes away, how do you locate all their accounts and investments if you don't have an updated list? Is it as simple as using their SIN card to locate them?"

I don't think you're going to like my answer, because there is nothing simple or easy about this. It usually takes a lot of legwork to find a deceased's assets and liabilities.

Having the SIN card is definitely helpful, as banks and other asset-holders can search their databases using a SIN card. This can be helpful since many people may have the same or similar name, but only one person will have a particular social insurance number. It should make searching easier.

The problem is determining which banks or brokers or investment advisors to ask. There is no place that you can enter a SIN and come up with a comprehensive list of everything a person owns in various institutions. You will have to ask one bank or advisor at a time. It used to be worse; at least these days you can go to any branch of a bank and get a search of all branches of that bank. In the not-so-distant past you had to approach each branch individually.

So how do you know which banks or advisors to ask?

Check paperwork at the deceased's home and office. Look for statements and bank books of course, but also any correspondence such as insurance offers.

In these days of paperless banking, fewer and fewer people leave paper statements around. If you don't have access to the deceased's computer, you're going to have to do it the hard way.

If you see a credit card in the deceased's wallet, check the bank that issued the card. People frequently get credit cards from the same place they do their regular banking.

Check to see which banks have branches close to the deceased's home or place of work. Most people choose to bank where it's convenient for them. Seniors in particular tend to choose the branch closest to home, within walking distance if possible.

If you have access to the deceased's past tax records, check to see which banks issued T5 slips for investments. There should be a copy of each T5 attached to the deceased's copy of a filed return.

When you check with a bank, whether or not you are successful in locating a bank account, ask the personnel to check the bank's investment arm as well. The major banks all have investment advisors attached to them (Scotia McLeod, RBC Dominion Securities, etc). Also remember to ask about safe deposit boxes, because many people will store original share certificates, deeds to the house etc. and you can often find clues there. For example, look at the deed to the house to see whether there is a mortgage registered against the house; the title will tell you which bank holds the mortgage.

Remember that many people have assets in more than one bank. So the fact that you've located an account in, say, Scotiabank, doesn't mean that you should stop looking.

The cold hard fact is that it is often an immense amount of work to figure out what another person owned, particularly where most records are kept on a computer that you can't access. This is why estate planners are always suggesting that people make an updated list of assets and liabilities.

As I said, you're probably not enjoying this answer one little bit, but unfortunately there may not be an easier way.

30 comments:

  1. This has been very helpful. I appreciate the advice about using past tax records and the fact that one branch can search for the complete bank itself.

    This is the first time on this site, but I have bookmarked it for further information.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback Mike. There is a ton of info on this site and I hope you find what you need.

      Lynne

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  2. If the deceased opened up a trust account for someone; e.g. family member or other, in one of many banks, how would the person for whom the trust was issued find out about it?

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    1. You said that the deceased opened up a trust account, as opposed to the executor. Does this mean you are talking about a bank account that was set up as an "in trust for" account? If you are not the executor of the estate, you are going to find it impossible to find out anything because nobody is going to discuss the deceased's financial affairs with anyone but the executor. If you are the executor and you simply cannot find any clues among the deceased's paperwork as to where this account might be, you are going to have to contact the banks. I would suggest contacting the main branch of each of the major banks, All branches of a bank are linked by computer so there is no need to go branch by branch the way we did in the old days.

      Lynne

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  3. How do you find your deceased parents assets when they been gone longer that 14 years ago?

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    1. I assume you've tried the things I mentioned in my post?

      Lynne

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  4. can my parents cancel my brother's bank account and give back the bank card as well as his death certificate if his ex is not willing to do so? by ex I mean she is still legally married but no separation nor divorced was ever filed.

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    1. That depends on a couple of things.

      First, who is the executor of the estate? Whoever was named in the will as the executor can deal with all of the assets of the estate, including bank accounts.

      Second, was the bank account joint with his wife? If so, she will now own the account and nobody else can force her to close it.

      Lynne

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  5. I am the executor of the decease. Are you suggest go into the head quarter of each major bank and ask for the decease's account? Instead of running around to each branches of the banks.

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  6. Yes. Some banks use client management software that will tell them which branch a client belongs to. It's worth a try and might save you a lot of legwork.

    Lynne

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  7. Hello... this Christmas my father passed away. Last week his girlfriend contacted me through my sister to inform me that I was a beneficiary of his will. I emailed her and asked for a copy. What arrived was a photocopy of notry publix stamp listing myself as a beneficery. With a typed out listing of account amounts of cash only assets and a listing of money's need for bills. But nothing else, not a car, home, investments.. ect. I don't feel this is correct at all and have no idea where to find facts.. any advice?

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    1. I expect that you did not receive a list of those items because they are not in the estate. If your father owned the house and car jointly with his girlfriend, then they go to her automatically and are not covered by the will.

      You can ask her that specific question to see if that's the case. It sounds as if she is the executor of the estate, so she is the right person to ask.

      If you are a residuary beneficiary of the estate, you are entitled to know what is in the estate. You are not entitled to know about items that are not in the estate.

      Lynne

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  8. My wife's elderly mother passed away. She was left an inheritance long ago from an aunt. My wife's father does not remember the location of this inheritance. how does the family locate these forgotten assets for the surviving husband (heir to his late wife's estate)?

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    1. You're not giving me much to go on here. You don't say whether the inheritance is land, money, physical object, etc. You said she was left an inheritance, not that she received it, but I'll assume that part. I suggest you start with the aunt's will if possible. If her will was sent to probate, that's the best place to look. The wording of the will may give some clues, as might the inventory of the estate that would have been filed. Not all probate records are detailed, but this might be the best you can expect.

      Lynne

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  9. Are there any updates as to how to find the deceased's accounts and investments?
    Also, can i contact for example TD main branch and request that they check for all TD accounts including TD Waterhouse, TD direct investing, TD wealth management, etc.?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Hi Jason,
      There is no quick and simple way to get all this information. It's going to take some legwork. Yes, you can get in touch with the main branch of a bank and ask them to search. If you have the client card (i.e. the debit card), they can usually find out whether the client has assets in those affiliates.

      Lynne

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  10. Hello,

    Is it possible to locate a broker that has retired and held an investment for my father?

    Thank you

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    1. All stockbrokers in Canada are registered with the National Registration Database. Whether they keep track of retired members, I couldn't say, but if not, they may know who bought or took over the broker's book of business.

      If the broker was associated with a certain group (such as Assante, Hollis Wealth, etc) you might contact a head office for that group to see what information you can find.

      Any brokers reading this post that have other ideas, please let this reader know!

      Lynne

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  11. I received a letter saying i needed to contact indian affairs as my father has a estate? I contacted them she said they were starting the process? thats all she would say. what doi do

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    1. It sounds to me as though they are about to probate your father's will, or if he didn't have a will, to distribute his estate. They are probably at the initial, information-gathering stage where they are figuring out where everyone is, confirming addresses, seeing what bills need to be paid, etc. I don't think you need to do anything right now, other than stay in touch with them so that you can monitor the progress of the estate. They may ask you for proof of identity to make sure they have the right person. Be patient, though; these things don't move quickly.

      Lynne

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  12. Hi Lynne, my uncle passed away and we are pretty sure there are no assets left. He died Intestate. He had some RRSPs with Investors Group but we believe he withdrew them all in the years preceding his death. Just need to confirm. Can my surviving uncle (as next of kin) request this information from Investors Group (and TDCT and RBC) without the need to obtain a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee without a Will? It seems like an expensive process to go through if there are no assets. Thanks for the help!

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    1. Hi Erin,
      Yes, it's an annoying sort of situation to be in, both for you and for the financial institution. Investor's Group doesn't have to tell anyone anything, since there is no will appointing an executor. However, I have found that where a person goes in with a death certificate and tells the whole story, they can get some information. While they will NOT be told account numbers and balances, they may at least be told whether anything exists. I have often been able to at least find out there is something there and X is the beneficiary, for example. People like Investors Group have dealt with estates before and while they have to be careful of clients' privacy, they are usually willing to do what they reasonably can to make things work.

      Lynne

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  13. Hi, i'm not sure if you can help but...here it goes!!! The trustee has mismanaged, stole, and dwindled down the estate and trust that I am 50% beneficiary of. Lawyers now involved, no inventory, no appraisals, accounts emptied and taken. Is the only way to gain access to the truth on all accounts threw court removal of trustee? Im next successor trustee listed on will and trust

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    Replies
    1. The removal itself won't help gain access to the truth. The point in removing a trustee is to exert some damage control so it doesn't get worse. With the removal application, I assume there are other requests for accounting and production of documents that would help get to the truth of the finances.

      If the trustee is removed and you're up next but you don't want to be the trustee, you don't have to.

      Lynne

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  14. My mother had recently passed away and I am the executor and I know she has inherited money but we do not know where the bank accounts are is there a basic template to send to each institute?

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    1. Hi Mm,
      There is no universal template that I know of. My office has one that we developed, but we still end up changing parts of it to suit the situation.

      Unfortunately you will have to write to each bank. At least with them being computerized, you don't have to write to each branch. Find the head or main office of each bank within the city or town and write to them.

      Your letter should:
      - Identify your mother by name, address, and birth date
      - Include a photocopy (notarized if possible) of the death certificate or funeral director's statement of death
      - Identify you as the executor
      - Include a photocopy of the will
      - Include ALL of your contact information
      - Give clear instructions on what you want them to do. Do you want them to phone you? Write you a letter? Check any particular branch close to her address? Check for a safe deposit box? Identify any designated beneficiaries on things like RRSPs?

      Once you develop your first letter, you can re-use it for all of the banks.

      Lynne

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  15. My dad passed away at the height of the COVID pandemic. He lived in Arizona and I live in Indiana. Because of the pandemic, I was unable to travel, my state was shut down. I couldn't get any of my dad's personal affects or see him one last time. The VA took care of his burial for me because I was unable to be there. Now, I'm trying to get his banking information. Oh yeah, I'm his only child. He retired from the post office and I know he also received VA benefits that we're direct deposited into an account. I'm just trying to find the account without knowing any information since all was lost due to COVID restrictions. What can I do?

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  16. Hello I’m trying to locate my fathers pensions and investments that he had before he died I was wondering if when the taxes are done for his estate if they will have records of rrsp, investments and pension on file as they are all taxed I believed. My father was also in Ontario and moved to Alberta so they could be in both provinces should I call every final advisers in his city in Alberta and in Ontario or will there be a list I will relieve when doing the taxes?

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    1. Hi Kate,
      Calling every financial advisor in two provinces certainly sounds like doing things the hard way. Now, I assume that you're the executor of the estate. If so, you can provide a copy of the will to CRA and they will share access to your father's records. You will be able to see all previous returns online. You are correct that each plan and investment that earned income should have provided a T5 or other tax slip to CRA, and would therefore be included in your father's return.

      I don't imagine anyone will provide you with a list of advisors. At least, I've never heard of such a thing. But whoever issues the T-slip is identified on the slip.

      If you get the tax return and are still stuck for information, contact an accountant who does tax work. I expect they can glean more information from tax slips and returns than anyone else.

      Lynne

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