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Friday, September 16, 2016

How do you find your deceased parents assets when they've been gone for 14 years?

Now here's a tough one. A reader left me this brief note:

"How do you find your deceased parents assets when they been gone longer than 14 years?"

There's an awful lot I don't know about your situation, including why 14 years have gone by with nobody looking after any potential assets. I don't know your parents' age when they died, where they lived, what they did for a living, or anything else useful. I don't know whether you're an executor who wants to go forward or one of the kids who is curious, or whether you have any living relatives who might be helpful.  As a result, the answer I'm about to give is going to be pretty general.

The passing of time doesn't make things any easier, that's for sure. Properties that are not paid for end up being foreclosed or reclaimed for back property tax. Unclaimed bank accounts may be closed. Records are destroyed after a few years. However, here are a few ideas to try, though admittedly many of them are long shots after 14 years:

1. If your parents left wills and you have a copy, read them to see whether there is any mention of accounts or life insurance policies, etc.

2. If you don't know whether they left wills or whether anything has happened with their estates (assuming you are not the executor) search their names at the probate court nearest where they lived. If an executor sent their wills to probate, there will be an inventory of assets that existed at the date of death. If there was an executor named, that is the best source of information you are likely to find. If you're in BC, there is a wills registry you can search.

3. Assuming that you know where they lived, do a title search on the property to see if they still own it. Do the same for a cabin or cottage.

4. If your parents owned a business, search the corporate registry to see who owns it now.

5. Visit banks near where your parents lived to see whether they have any records of accounts.

6. Call the office of the public trustee to see whether they ever represented your parents either as a power of attorney or as an executor. They are usually only involved with individuals who have no family members willing to help them, or whose families can't get along. It's worth a shot, though. If they did once represent your parents, they should have information about assets that existed at that time. Also, sometimes when a beneficiary of an estate can't be found, his or her share is left at the public trustee's office, so they might have information about your parents' estates.

7. Talk to any family members you have. Ask if anyone acted under a power of attorney for your parents. See if anyone has recollections of insurance companies, banks, investment advisors or lawyers you could talk to.

8. Check with your parents' former employers to see if there are any unclaimed pension benefits.

9. Search newspaper archives for your parents' names. There are plenty of useful things you might find, including a notice for an estate sale or auction, a property listing by a realtor, or an advertisement for estate creditors that includes the name of their lawyer.

There are some other sources of information about assets but unless you are the executor or administrator of your parents's estates, you're not going to get access. For example, Canada Revenue Agency could provide copies of past tax returns that contain information about investments, property, etc, but you are not entitled to get that information if you are not the executor. Places such as banks, law firms and insurance companies are also going to be reluctant to give out private information about their customers.

If anyone reading this post has additional ideas based on their experience, I'd be interested to hear them, as I'm sure other readers would as well.

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