Finding a deceased person's bank accounts is possible with the right information. If the decedent did not have organized records, start with local banks and work up to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) online search resources to locate accounts. In some cases, records are so old that it is difficult to know whether the account or even the bank still exists.
Identify Possible Accounts in Existing Records
Ideally, the deceased person has a copy of tax returns with bank account information. Tax returns are a great resource for locating all sorts of assets that beneficiaries may be unaware of. If there are no copies available in the home or safe deposit box, and you are either the executor or beneficiary to the estate, you can request a copy of the return from the IRS.
Download and complete IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. Include a death certificate and a court-approved Letter of Testamentary along with the fee required to obtain the copy. IRS Form 56 may be used if no court proceedings have taken place. If you do use Form 56, include documentation demonstrating fiduciary responsibility such as a trust document. Review the documents for interest paid, identifying the institutions where deposits earned interest.
Form 4506 allows multiple year copies with the same form. It can take up to eight weeks to get a copy of the return. If you are unfamiliar with reading tax returns, consider hiring a CPA or accountant to help decipher if there are any assets to pursue.
Locate Local Institutions
Many people bank close to home for easy access to funds. If you are the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate, you can take identification, a certified death certificate and accompanying probate court paperwork showing your appointment to local banks near the deceased's residence. Request a search for assets held at the bank. If you locate assets at a local bank, ask the account representative what documentation is required to access the funds. If the account was held in the deceased's sole name, then it should be easy to have the money transferred to the estate account the executor has opened to handle the estate bills and assets.
Be aware that some accounts may be beneficiary or "Payable on Death" accounts. These accounts do not pass through probate but instead pass directly to the named beneficiary when the account holder dies. No one will be able to see these accounts except the beneficiary, not even an executor with papers.
In some cases, a bank may have a record of an old account that was closed. By getting final statements of those closed accounts, there may be information about where the account was transferred to, if it was transferred at all. Look at the last checks or transfers for clues.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
The FDIC is designed to protect people's money held in banks through FDIC insurance. Bank account holders have federal protection for assets up to $250,000 in any given FDIC-insured institution.
The FDIC not only provides this insurance for account holders against potential bank failure, it also maintains records of merged or failed institutions, and the owners of those accounts. Going to the FDIC website, use the "bank
Paid Asset Recovery Services
There are asset recovery services that are essentially private investigator firms. These firms will do all the leg work for you but for a fee. Depending on the size of the estate, it may not be feasible for probate executors to pay additional costs to locate assets. In larger, more complex estates where bank accounts, life insurance and investment accounts are suspected to be spread across many states, it may be helpful to hire a professional firm.