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Q: I am the executor in my aunt's will. I'm happy to help but I'm concerned that I won't be able to find all of her accounts. She has accounts all over the place and is very secretive. How does an executor find all of the accounts?

A: It's not always easy to locate all of a decedent's assets and it's not that unusual to locate property months or even years after an estate has been fully administered. However, there are a couple of things that a personal representative can do to locate the assets of a decedent.

The first thing that I generally do is check the county assessor's website. Both Lake County and Porter County have easy to use websites. There are a number of ways that you can search including using a name or address. The assessor's website should provide you with information on real estate that the decedent owns.

Another place you can check for real estate is the GIS system. GIS stands for Geographical Information System (I had to look that up) and can be used to search for real estate. To me, it's not as easy to use as a county assessor's website but it has a lot of relevant information available. It also has plat information so that you can see where the property is physically located and how it is laid out. It's not always one hundred percent accurate but it's pretty good.

After I've searched for real estate, I usually go to the tax returns. Tax returns should include information on all of the accounts that issue 1099s. In other words, there should be a list of places from which a decedent received income. If a person received interest from Centier Bank, there is probably a pretty good chance she has, or had, an account of some sort there. Look at the past few returns to get the big picture.

If checking the assessor and GIS websites and the decedent's tax returns hasn't turned up all of the assets, you might have to start investigating. That means going through papers that you locate in the decedent's home and possibly writing enquiry letters to financial institutions. That sort of a search is going to take time, but you might get lucky.

Finally, don't forget to check the Indiana Unclaimed Property website. I conduct a search in every trust and estate administration and I've found property on more than one occasion.

The more organized that your aunt is, the easier it should be on you when it comes time to wrap up her estate. For example, it's often a good idea to leave a list of assets and where they can be found. It's also a good idea to keep all of the financial information in one location. It can be someplace as simple as desk drawer.

Since your aunt is still with us, have a conversation with her. Explain your concerns and ask her to write a list of assets and where they are located. Tell her she doesn't have to give you the list now, but leave it somewhere it can be found when the time comes.

Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.

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