Straightening out a parent's finances after death is a messy job. Even if one parent is alive, she might have no idea how they managed their finances. Although you may be grieving too, it might be up to you to identify your parent's bank accounts and other assets. With that information assembled, the executor and the probate court can wrap up your parents' affairs faster.
Accessing Records Before Death
The best time to access your mother's records is while she's still alive. Ask her to draw up a list of her bank accounts and place it with her other financial papers at her lawyer's office, in her desk or in a safety deposit box. To be usable, it has to be somewhere you can get to it: If your name isn't on the safety deposit box, too, the list won't do you a lick of good. If the file includes passwords for her accounts, so much the better.
Go on a Paper Chase
You can't be certain your father keeps perfect track of his finances. There might be bank accounts he never closed and forgot about or accounts he opened late in life without updating the list. Going through his file cabinet and his computer might be the last thing you want to do, but it's necessary to confirm you have data on all his bank accounts. Bank statements are a big help, of course, but so are old tax returns. Schedule B, which lists dividend and interest income, is particularly useful.
Talk to Bank Employees
If you become the executor of your mother's estate, accessing the account information is simple. Present your authorization papers to the bank and wait for it to process the documentation. After that, you have the legal right to see everything in the accounts. If you're not the executor, ask whoever the court appointed as executor for information about the accounts. Your legal right to get information about your parent's estate from the executor varies from state to state, though.
If you have your name on any of your father's accounts as joint owner, you can access the records before and after he dies. If your mother survives him and needs you to manage her finances, you can ask her for a power of attorney. This gives you the right to see the records of any bank account she co-owned with your father, though the bank might require you file extra paperwork. If nothing else, getting usernames and passwords from a surviving parent will enable you to view the records online.
- NOLO: Helping Your Widowed Parent With Legal and Financial Issues
- Bankrate: Eight Steps for Managing Parents' Finances
- NOLO: How Beneficiaries Can Claim Payable-on-Death Assets
- Unruh Turner Burke & Frees: PA Executors Must Comply with Certain Legal Requirements
- Legal Beagle: How to Access the Bank Records of a Deceased Parent
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.