Tell Your Estate Attorney About All of Your Assets

Some people are naturally secretive about their finances. People either feel judge by the level of their assets if they believe they don’t have enough, or they don’t trust anyone enough to say where all of their assets are. And so stock certificates are held in file cabinets, cash is stuffed in loose books, funds are held overseas, and random banks and passbooks hold small account balances.

My message to you: Secrecy may cost you dearly when you pass away.

Whenever you earn interest, the IRS receives a 1099 from the financial institution. When I have a recently deceased client whom I suspect has withheld account information (despite my urgings to let me know during her lifetime) I ask the executor to have an accountant request this IRS ledger. This works for funds that actually do accrue reportable interest, but it takes time and thus costs money for me and the accountant.

The assets that do not report income are harder to find. Stock certificates and savings bonds do not necessarily generate reportable income; if they can be found it is often at the cost of additional time. If they cannot be found the asset is basically gone until it reaches New York’s Unclaimed Funds web site, if it ever makes it there.

Foreign accounts are the worse assets: Not only are they difficult to find, claiming them may require hiring an additional attorney in another country.

My advice: Tell your attorney about all of your assets, and make sure they have a printed list  printed asset lists are now far more secure than saved documents floating in the internet “cloud.” If you want to keep assets secret you should keep them secret from everyone other than your attorney or most trusted advisor. Make sure you give them a list and contact information of all these assets. Place physical assets into electronic format at banks or financial companies. Have assets pass via Transfer on Death accounts to avoid the publicity of probate when you pass away. Remember that you don’t need to tell people what the treasure is, but you should leave a treasure map for when you do pass away.

Q FOR U: If something happened to you, would your family or friends be able to identify all of your assets?

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