The importance of searching the deceased person’s possessions for evidence of assets

It can be daunting when someone passes away and their affairs are not in order. This shouldn’t, however, prevent estate administrators from searching for papers that could prove important in gathering in and realising the estate’s assets. There are obvious checks that can be made – for bank accounts, pensions, investment accounts, property ownership, household possessions, jewellery, cars, boats, bank security deposit boxes and so on.

But the person who has died might also have had shares in a business, timeshares, bonds, shares not listed on a stock exchange, and other intangible assets like intellectual property and rights. Some assets might be even farther afield, or hiding in disguise among the less promising-looking piles of paper found in the deceased’s possession.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have you identified all of the worldwide assets in the estate? Some people are secretive about their foreign bank accounts or other offshore assets, and it might be necessary to thoroughly search available documents to reveal further information.
  2. If you know there was an overseas bank account, can family members help confirm its likely contents? Check the deceased’s papers for statements, because even old statements might help indicate both the likely balance and the correct account number. It can be difficult, slow and costly to convince overseas banks to release this information to executors, whose common law probate role they often don’t understand. Having an idea of the value of the account will also help us to assess the feasibility of assisting you with its closure.
  3. Locating possible original share certificates – they may not be valid, but might still have to be surrendered to claim cash pay-outs or to transfer stock into new names. Overseas, the average replacement value is 2-3 percent plus the cost of notarising a Lost Securities Affidavit. You don’t currently need a certificate for more than a few hundred IBM shares, for example, to be lost, to face a bill of more than $1,000 to replace the certificate.
  4. Locating Title Deeds, for example, to land in Europe or the Caribbean. If deeds are found, they will help remove any uncertainty over exactly who owns the land. Replacing lost title deeds (necessary in order to transfer ownership of property from a deceased’s name to that of a beneficiary), might turn out to be an avoidable expense and delay.
  5. Finding shareholder and dividend statements for UK and North American shareholdings – if you are uncertain about the status of the shareholdings in the deceased’s name, we can check it for you if you can provide a full shareholder reference or account number, which is usually printed on the statement or dividend statement.

When assets turn to smoke…

Not all assets are what they seem. Many UK investors have been stung by “boiler room” share sale fraud. The deceased’s stock certificates look great, but they’re really just large numbers of essentially worthless shares which usually can’t be traded.

Some estates include paperwork indicating that the deceased might have owned land or property overseas, or perhaps was thought to have inherited it. But there are ominous gaps in the paperwork, and no title deeds. When we investigate further, we find that title to the property is still in the name of the vendor, and was never properly transferred to the deceased. Although money changed hands, and the deceased thought he owned the property, without his name on the title register, it’s not his.

Finders can conduct UK assets searches, and help you with the disposal or transfer of a variety of overseas assets, from shares in North America to bank accounts in Australia. Contact Louise Levene, Asset Services Manager, for an initial informal discussion (020 7490 4935; email: Louise Levene). All information is received in confidence and there is no obligation. No costs will be incurred without your express authorisation.