Imagine this: A family member or friend has recently passed away, and you have been named in the will as their Personal Representative. You have spoken with an Estate attorney and have offered the will for probate with the Register of Wills office. You have been sworn in by the court clerk to act as Personal Representative and, if you live in Pennsylvania, you now have a few “short certificates” in hand authorizing you to act.
. . . . Now what?
The Personal Representative of an estate has many jobs – one of which is collecting the deceased person’s (“decedent’s”) assets. You might know that the decedent owned their own home. You may also have an idea that the decedent had a few bank accounts, an investment account, a 401k or IRA, life insurance policy, etc. But, you might wonder, “how do I know that I’m not missing anything?” What follows is a listing of frequently overlooked assets to keep in mind when acting as a Personal Representative for an Estate:
1. Pennsylvania Treasurer Unclaimed Property
State Treasurers receive hundreds of millions of dollars in unclaimed property every year, and your decedent may be entitled to some of it. For example, the decedent may have missed cashing a dividend or insurance check, and if enough time has passed, that money has been transferred from the broker to the PA State Treasury to be held as unclaimed funds. Fortunately, Pennsylvania’s Treasury Department maintains an easy to use and free search feature on their website: www.patreasury.gov. You’ll simply need the decedent’s first and last name to conduct a search. Once entered, if there is a match in the database, a list will appear with names, city, zip code, and the holder of the unclaimed funds. With a little more information and documentation, a claim form can be completed to request the funds.
If the decedent moved between several states during his or her lifetime, it may be useful to check the treasury departments of each state where the decedent resided, as well as Delaware. As many financial firms, banks, and financial applications incorporate under the laws of Delaware, they often transfer dormant accounts to the Delaware Treasury.
2. Stock received from Demutualized Insurance Companies
Did the decedent own a life insurance policy? Oftentimes, Personal Representatives are unaware that the decedent may have received shares of stock years ago when their mutual life insurance company “demutualized” and changed its corporate structure to become a publicly traded stock company. As an example, commonly known MetLife and Prudential are two insurance companies that have been through the demutualization process. When this occurs, policy holders are typically issued company stock, in addition to maintaining their life insurance policies. This stock, if owned at death, is an asset that needs to be valued and transferred with assistance from the company’s transfer agent. When discussing a life insurance policy with the insurance company, the Personal Representative should ask if any stock was issued in the decedent’s name, and determine who the company’s transfer agent is so that the Personal Representative can properly transfer that stock to the correct beneficiaries.
3. Airline Miles
It has been a little over a year since the death of beloved chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain. One lesson we can learn from his estate plan was the importance of identifying airline miles as an asset of an estate. While Bourdain left the majority of his probate estate to his minor daughter, he left his estranged wife the balance of his airline miles to “dispose of in accordance with what [she] believes to have been my wishes” . Bourdain was a prolific traveler, so it is of no surprise that his miles were mentioned in his last will. Does the decedent have travel points and miles saved up? Those miles may be transferrable to a beneficiary, depending on the contract. Most contracts indicate that “miles” are not the property of any member and, except as otherwise provided in the user agreements, are not transferrable upon death. But there are a few exceptions. While AAdvantage miles are generally not transferrable upon death of a member, American Airlines may, upon receiving appropriate documentation (death certificate, short certificate, copy of the Will, affidavit indicating the account number of decedent and proposed recipient, etc.), may credit accrued mileage to persons named in a will. United MileagePlus’s terms and conditions also seem to allow transfer upon receipt of appropriate documentation. Even if the user agreement and terms and conditions seem to indicate transferring the miles is not an option, it is worth speaking to the respective company who may show you more compassion than the terms would indicate.
4. Balances held in Venmo, Paypal, and other similar Applications
Do you currently use a mobile app which holds a balance of funds? Apps like Paypal, Venmo, and others make transferring funds to family and friends easier than ever before. If you use apps like these, have you checked your balance lately? As of the time of writing this article, I have about $120.00 in my Venmo account that admittedly wasn’t on my radar. What happens to these balances when we die? How would my Personal Representative know about them? Venmo and Paypal balances do not accrue interest, so you wouldn’t receive a year-end tax information statement. Because the account information is typically held in the App on the decedent’s phone or in decedent’s email (which may or may not be accessible), these assets can be easily overlooked. If you believe your decedent may have an account like these, you’ll need to review the respective User Agreement to determine how these funds are handled. For dormant accounts, Venmo and Paypal will transfer the balance to the Delaware Treasurer’s office as Unclaimed Funds, but the User Agreements are curiously silent on what to do if an account holder passes away. Like any bank, you should provide a death certificate, short certificate, copy of the Will and letter requesting information about their account to determine if an account (and cash balance) exists and to request a withdrawal of the funds.
Keeping these assets in mind early in the probate process can spare you headaches later. For estate and trust administration questions like this, and more, reach out to the Estate Group at GRB Law.