The responsibility of locating the assets of the deceased will fall on the shoulders of the executor. This will require locating all of the documentation the deceased had which relates to these assets. However, many people keep poor records, and some are even secretive about what their assets are. Sometimes, the deceased suffered years of memory loss and this makes it even harder to work out the whole picture of a deceased assets.
When assets are difficult to locate, they are often referred to hidden assets. It is important to note that this is different from the meaning many people are aware of from divorce, as there they are intentionally hidden; here, they are just difficult to find. Hidden assets can refer to cash, bonds, insurance, stocks and shares, loans, debts, property and much more.
The executor is required to make a sufficient effort to locate all of the deceased’s assets, especially when it comes to applying for probate of an estate, as HMRC will require a complete picture of the estate for inheritance tax reasons. The executor can be held liable for incorrect information being submitted, especially if it was due to the negligence of the executor, which causes a loss to HMRC. Additionally, assets being discovered after the estate has started to be administered can cause complications, especially if it affects amounts beneficiaries are due to receive in the negative. It can be a difficult and often argumentative process of telling a beneficiary they were given too much.
As the executor can be held personally liable by the beneficiaries if they fail to handle the estate in their best interests, it is vital best efforts are made to locate hidden assets.
How to locate hidden assets
Before applying for probate or administering the deceased estate, an executor who believes there are hidden assets can take several steps to locate them.
Firstly, the simple step of searching the deceased’s home for paperwork. This can be letters or financial statements. It may be a long process looking through piles of papers, but this can help ensure assets are discovered. Failing to do this simple step would likely be considered negligence and open the executor to claims against them by the beneficiaries. The executor should look at bank statements of the deceased to check for regular payments in or out.
Having discovered evidence relating to possible hidden assets, the executor should seek to contact each one to inform them of the death of the deceased. The executor should also seek information relating to what accounts the deceased may have had with them. In order to have this information revealed, it will be necessary for the executor to provide the death certificate and the will to prove their position. This should be enough to at least have the institution confirm or deny the existence of assets. The executor can then request further details of the assets held.
Alternatively, if the executor does not have the time to deal with such matters, they can hire professionals to locate lost, dormant and unknown assets. A professional search will not have to contact each institution individually and can discover assets which are not evidenced in any paperwork in the deceased’ possession. A professional search will also demonstrate that the executor took all reasonable steps to locate all the assets of the deceased.