When someone dies they are deemed to have sold all of their assets at fair market value immediately before death. So, the big question is, what did they own, and what are the values? Answering this question is one of the first big tasks in settling an estate… generating a list of assets and liabilities, as of the date of death (ie. Balance Sheet). The contents of the balance sheet will be used by the person preparing the probate forms, either the executor or their lawyer.
Generating a list of assets can be very easy in many estates, but very complex and frustrating in other estates. Firstly, is there a will? If there is, then the bank will likely share information with you, such as account numbers and balances. But if there’s no will then most companies will refuse to provide any information due to privacy concerns. Write letters to any banks, financial institutions, insurance companies, service providers, pension offices… everyone who the deceased did business with. Ask them for account numbers, values and any other details you can think of, with respect to the assets (possibly) owned and debts owing.
Most people are helpful, but sometimes you’ll hit a dead end, in which case you’ll have to dig deeper. Search through the deceased’s home. Look in filing cabinets, desks, closets, boxes, drawers. Speak with their lawyer, accountant, financial planner, relatives, friends. Contact any and all companies whose documents you find. And if you ask yourself, “Should I bother contacting this company?”, my answer would be, “For the price of a stamp, why wouldn’t you”.
Seek whatever help you may need to establish market values, such as professional appraisals for jewellery, antiques, real estate and companies. Calculate interest earned up to the date of death on financial investments such as bonds and GIC’s. Research those stock certificates you found in the safety deposit box. The company may have changed its name or been sold.
The CPP Death Benefit as well as the final pension cheques need to be shown as assets, even if they haven’t arrived yet. And then there’s the assets that can easily get overlooked, such as the damage deposit from the apartment rental, or the trust/comfort account at the care home. The condo or timeshare in Florida needs to be shown. Insurance policies where there is no named beneficiary must also be included, because the estate will be the beneficiary.
You do not need to include joint bank accounts where there’s a right of survivorship, or real estate owned in joint tenancy, because the surviving owner simply continues to own them.
Now that you have your list of assets & liabilities, what’s next? In most cases, filing for probate.
Gregg Medwid is the owner and president of Executor Support, a firm based in Coquitlam, British Columbia, with expertise assisting executors and administrators in settling estates. The project management expertise and customer service focus Medwid brings to Executor Support ensures questions are answered and help is given when it is most needed.
This article is in no way intended to substitute for competent legal advice.