As the executor of an estate, you will need to thoroughly understand the scope of the decedent’s assets and debts so that you can prepare for probate (if needed) and the distribution of assets. Afterwards, you will need to estimate the value of each asset and determine the way in which the asset is owned, which will affect the process of transferring it. Even if you have a general sense of the assets involved in an estate, you should take the time to investigate whether there may be additional assets of which you are unaware. You can look in safe deposit boxes or likely hiding places in the decedent’s home, consult their friends or other family members, and review key documents in the decedent’s financial papers, such as bank statements, tax returns, and investment records. In some cases, there may even be assets of which the decedent was unaware.
Probate requires filing a formal inventory with the court. You should also maintain a worksheet that lists assets for your own reference, even assets that do not need to go through probate.
Real Estate, Bank Accounts, and Vehicles
With regard to real estate owned by the decedent, you will want to provide the address and a description of the property. For bank accounts, you will want to list the relevant bank holding the account, as well as the account number and the amount in the account at the time of the decedent’s death. You can send a copy of the death certificate and an affidavit to the bank to prove that you are entitled to this information, or you can send documents through the probate court. If the decedent owned any vehicles, including not only cars but also boats and other unconventional vehicles, you should list the make, model, and year of the vehicle as well as its identification number.
Stocks and Bonds
Many people leave substantial amounts of stocks and bonds to their loved ones. Your inventory should include the number of shares of each type of stock, the name of the corporation, and the name of the exchange on which the stock is traded. Meanwhile, you should note the total gross amount of a bond, the name of the entity that issued it, the interest rate on the bond, and its maturity date. (You also will want to note the serial number on U.S. savings bonds.)
Life Insurance and Retirement Plans
For life insurance policies, you will want to record the company providing the policy, the policy number, the policyholder’s name, the type of coverage provided, and the primary and any alternate beneficiaries. You should record the amount in any retirement plan, as well as the account number and the company responsible for managing the account.
Wages and Business Interests
You should estimate any unpaid wages, commissions, and other benefits of employment that the decedent may have been owed from their employer. If they owned a business, you will want to note the name of the business and the type of form that it took, such as a partnership, an LLC, a corporation, or a sole proprietorship. For businesses operated with others, you will want to find more information about the ownership structure. If the decedent invested in a limited partnership, you should get a statement from the partnership on the value of the decedent’s investment.
A decedent may have had intangible assets, such as a patent on an invention or a copyright on a book. You should make note of any patents, copyright registrations, or contracts with businesses regarding intellectual property.
Debts and Judgments
If the decedent loaned money to someone else or won a judgment in court, their estate has the right to collect repayment on the loan or the proceeds of the judgment. You should keep track of any promissory notes or court documents indicating a verdict or settlement in the decedent’s favor.