I get a lot of questions about the Document Review & Asset Research service that Somerset House Services offers. This is one of my favorite projects, (I grew up on the Nancy Drew mysteries), and I love finding assets for my clients. Usually this is a referral from one of the attorneys or accountants that we work with, and frequently the person had dementia or a history of eccentric behavior. I start by talking to the client about the personality of the decedent or ward, their family history, past employment, hobbies, etc. Sometimes that’s not possible – at the moment I’m working on a project where an attorney has been appointed guardian for a woman that has dementia and no family – in that case I’ll talk to the neighbors, especially neighbors that have lived there a long time.
The next step is to go thru all the documents at the house. Old mail, tax returns, bank statements, duplicate check carbons, receipts, military records, paystubs, advertisements torn out of magazines – all of these can provide leads on possible assets. I’ve found all kinds of assets from going thru old mail and tax returns, including bank accounts, investment accounts, annuities, out of state property, life insurance policies, stocks and bonds, etc. Bank statements, especially old bank statements, are a gold mine of information. I look for a pattern of deposits and withdrawals, such as a deduction for the purchase of savings bonds or the rental of a safe deposit box. In one case the decedent had closed the bank account years ago, but unknown to anyone he went to the bank once a year and paid the rent on the safe deposit box, and when it was opened it was full of gold and silver coins.
Then we search the house. At this point I have a good idea of what to look for. Did the individual have a safe deposit box and close it several years ago? Are there ads torn out of magazines for coins? Were there large withdrawals of cash in the last few years? That is a good indication that assets are hidden in the house. Men and women tend to hide assets in different places. Men usually hide assets in the basement or garage, whereas women usually hide assets in their bedrooms or in clothing or shoes. But there are exceptions so we search everything. I’ve found gold jewelry in the bottom of a basket full of old bills, coins in the bottom of sewing baskets, and cash everywhere you can think of – between the leaves of books, taped to the back of drawers, between towels in a linen closet, in the bottom of an old coffee can full of nails in a garage, etc.
Next blog – searching for assets on the internet.
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