A major aspect of the estate administration process is determining and collecting assets. What are the assets of the estate? How do I (as the executor or administrator a.k.a. "fiduciary") collect the assets?
Usually, the estate fiduciary is aware of most estate property. For example, it may be clear the decedent owned a house in Brooklyn and had a brokerage account with a major institution. On the other hand, unbeknownst to the fiduciary, the decedent may have had a savings account at a local bank or owned a piece of land in another state. A fiduciary has a legal obligation to use reasonably exhaustive efforts to determine and collect all estate assets. Prudent fiduciaries enlist the assistance of an experienced estate attorney who will analyze the unique aspects of an estate in order to develop an appropriate strategy for collecting the assets.
There are numerous methods used to determine assets. Some basic techniques consist of consulting with the decedent’s accountant, financial planner, or other estate planning professionals. Analyzing the decedent’s recently filed personal income tax returns, or requesting transcripts from the IRS, is a means used to locate income-bearing assets. However, assets that do not generate income may not appear on a tax return and therefore will not be found without additional investigation. More intensive techniques for determining assets are appropriate when warranted.
Each type of asset requires a different means of “collection”. For instance, a fiduciary may transfer the funds in a savings account directly into an estate bank account, while stocks must be liquidated before the funds can be transferred into an estate account. Further, some brokerages require additional steps prior to transfer. Real property is often, but not always, sold by the fiduciary and the funds transferred into an estate account. The fiduciary must work with her estate lawyer in order to determine whether certain property should be liquidated or “transferred in kind” to the beneficiaries.
Unclaimed Funds / Abandoned Property
The Office of the New York State Comptroller, Office of Unclaimed Funds is a primary resource for locating unknown estate assets. More information on unclaimed funds can be found by clicking here.