Sister’s death spurs search for accounts

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Dear Dr. Don,
My sister was recently killed in an accident. She may have life insurance, safety deposit boxes, 401(k) and other accounts or assets. All her records of these accounts were in a bag that cannot be found. Where and how do I begin looking?
— Tom Tribulation

Dear Tom,
I’m sorry for your loss. I also understand your desire to figure out your sister’s financial affairs so you can work toward closing her estate. Without recommending the other features on its site, the Web site has an interesting article on “Finding out whether the decedent left a will.”

Going through your sister’s mail as it comes in can provide some important clues about where she may have policies, accounts or assets. Most people who have a safe deposit box are likely to keep it at the branch where they bank, in part because banks often give a discount on rental rates to existing customers. Unpaid safe deposit boxes eventually have their contents turned over to state unclaimed property departments.

On the insurance side, one obvious place to look for a life insurance policy is your sister’s employer. The employer would also be the source for retirement accounts, death benefits, etc. Another insurance source is to contact the MIB Group. It has a policy locator service. Here’s what their Web site says about the service:

If you are an executor, or administrator (in cases where there have been no probate proceedings, a surviving spouse or other relative eligible for appointment may be entitled to order the report), Policy Locator can make it easy to discover life insurance benefits you may not have realized existed.

Old tax returns can also be a source of investment information. The executor is able to request old copies of your sister’s returns using IRS Form 4506, “Request for Copy of Tax Return.”

Your letter is a good reminder to everyone to update their list of financial records and to keep them where a trusted relative or friend would know where to find them. You’ve helped out a few others today by prompting them to get their records in order.

Read more Dr. Don columns for additional personal finance advice.