ADVERTISEMENT

How to check whether your parents left you an inheritance

Emotions, time, distance can cloud memories, so go for the records

By Gary Foreman

The New Frugal You
New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters. He writes "New Frugal You," a weekly Q&A column about frugal living, for CreditCards.com

Ask a question.

'New Frugal You' archive

Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear New Frugal You,
My dad died recently. We weren't very close. Years ago before she passed, my mom said that he had something that he wanted me to inherit, but I have no idea what it might be. I don't even know if he had a will. I'm the only living relative. Is there some way to find out if he left me something? -- Tara

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Tara,
Sorry to hear about your dad. Even if you weren't close, it can still hurt to lose a parent.

Your first stop should be the courthouse in the county where your dad resided. If an executor has been assigned to his estate, they'll have a record of it. They'll also be able to tell you how to contact the executor.

If no one has been assigned, you can apply to the court to become the executor. If you're the only living relative, it's likely that they will honor your request. Be prepared to provide some proof of your relationship. Your birth certificate naming your dad as your father should suffice.

If you do become the executor -- sometimes called an executrix, administrator or personal representative -- you'll have access to your father's financial records. But it will also mean that you're responsible for closing out his affairs. That will include collecting all assets, paying appropriate debts, tax returns and distribution of any inheritances.

Depending on your relationship, you could decide that the chance of locating a specific inheritance isn't worth the work of managing the estate. In that case, an executor will be assigned. You'll still receive any inheritance due you. But the odds of finding a specific item decrease. You might know someone personally who would help find the inheritance your mother mentioned that an executor from outside the family would not.

I hope your dad kept his financial records organized. Ideally, he left a notebook listing his accounts, important assets and papers. In many cases that doesn't happen. But you might find a desk or file cabinet where he kept statements and other financial papers.

If you don't find papers gathered in one place the job becomes much harder. Combing through financial records to find assets and debts isn't easy or pretty.

You'll start by collecting the mail looking for statements and bills. Even inactive accounts will generate a statement periodically, often quarterly.

Look for any record of a safe deposit box. You might find a bill for the rental or a key. If you think that he had one, but can't find any evidence, try contacting his bank. Many people keep their safe deposit boxes where they do their banking.

Contact any of your dad's former employers. Not only could they know of any pensions or retirement plans, but they might be able to help you contact your dad's co-workers. It's also possible that he had some employer-purchased life insurance.

Look for any other organizations that your dad might have belonged to. Was he a member of any churches, lodges or clubs? Speaking with his friends could provide leads to otherwise hidden assets.

You'll also want to check state unclaimed property lists in every state where your father lived. States collect unclaimed deposits and accounts and hold them. 

There's no way to guarantee that you'll find everything that your father owned. At some point you'll need to decide that you've done your best and call off the hunt.

Your situation is a good lesson for all of us. It's important to have someone lined up to handle your affairs after you die. That's true even if you're a young person. They don't need to know all your financial affairs now -- just that you'd like them to be your executor and where to find a listing of your accounts, safe deposit boxes, assets, debts and your will.

Tara, I hope that you're able to find the inheritance your mother mentioned, and that you can discover some happy memories, as well.

See related: Finding an inheritance, After debt judgment, inheritance may be at risk

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.

Published: March 28, 2013


Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.




Follow Us


Updated: 09-26-2016


Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.


ADVERTISEMENT