How to find money left to you

Finding an Inheritance

by Gary Foreman

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?

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 has his residence. 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. Being 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 "father" should suffice.

If you do become the executor, 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 and 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 something personally that would help find the inheritance your mother mentioned that a non-related executor would not.

Hopefully 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 paperwork.

Related: How to Waste a Sudden Inheritance

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 box where they do their banking.

Expert Interview: End-of-Life Planning Everyone Needs to Do

Contact any of your dad's former employers. Not only could they know of any pensions or retirement plans, but also they might be able to help you contact 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 frequented. Was he a member of any churches, lodges, or clubs? Speaking with his friends could provide leads to otherwise hidden assets.

We recommend getting professional estate planning help, but if paying a professional is not in your budget, consider Nolo's estate planning products including wills and living trusts.

You'll also want to check for unclaimed property in any states where your father lived. States collect unclaimed deposits and accounts and hold them. You'll find links for each state here.

There's no sure 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.

Do you have enough life insurance? Get your free term life insurance quote from PolicyGenius, a Dollar Stretcher trusted partner.

Tara's 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. They just need to know that you'd like them to be your executor and where to find a listing of your accounts, safe deposit boxes, assets, and debts and your will.

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

Reviewed April 2017

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Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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