There are several reasons why it is important to have an estate plan. However, by far, one of the overarching reasons people have told us why they want an estate plan in place is because they want to see their loved ones inherit the full benefit of their hard-earned assets, in a smooth hassle-free manner.
When you pass away, it is the job of the Executor (after he or she gets appointed by the Court) to marshal up all of the assets in the estate, pay off all debts and expenses before distributing the remaining assets in accordance with your Will. To do this, the Executor needs to know what assets you owned at the time of your death.
A good estate plan will include a separate list of assets which the Executor can then refer to and use to make sure the beneficiaries receive what is due and owing to them. If your estate plan does not have such a list, you run the risk of certain assets going unclaimed and subsequently escheated over to the State.
Example, John dies in 2017 and his brother Bill is the named Executor. Bill starts searching through all of John’s desks, drawers and filing cabinets to see what, if any, documentation he can find about John’s assets. During his search, he uncovers bank account statements from Wells Fargo, so he contacts Wells Fargo to inform them of his brother’s death and has the accounts turned over to an Estate account. From this account, Bill uses to pay for John’s funeral and other expenses/debts before distributing the rest of the money to John’s children.
What Bill did not know, however, is that John also had an account with Bank of America that was worth $25,000. John had requested these statements to be sent to him online so there was no record of this account among John’s paperwork. Moreover, John had last used the account in 2015, so in 2018, after three years of inactivity, Bank of America, per its internal policies and state rules, turned over the account to the state.
Once the state has unclaimed property, the owner has a limited amount of time to claim the property before the state can claim the property for itself. Each state has its own rules as to how long owners have to reclaim his or her property. According to the New Jersey Department of Treasury, approximately 1 in every 10 individuals, has unclaimed property. Common examples include unpaid life insurance benefits, forgotten bank accounts, utility deposits and unused rebate cards.
In this case, if Bill never learns of the Bank of America account (or if he does not learn of it in time to claim the money for the Estate), then John’s children will be out of luck.
A good estate planning firm should offer as part of their fee, an asset list that incorporates every single asset/account you own along with recommendations on how to retitle ownership into trusts (should you decide to establish one or more) as well as how to properly update your beneficiary designations. These firms would also be mindful of overseas assets that are particularly susceptible to escaping the notice of an otherwise diligent Executor. Not all estate planning law firms offer detailed spreadsheets prepared in conjunction with the estate plan. Therefore, it is extremely important when choosing a law firm to assist with your estate plan to not only pick one that specializes in estate planning but can also offer these important (yet hidden) value-adds as a normal and commonplace part of its overall fee package. Ultimately, a good law firm’s objectives must be aligned with your own and which can help set up a proper estate plan for you to ensure your loved ones inherit the full benefit of your hard-earned assets.
 As a fun exercise, check out this link to see if you or a loved one may have unclaimed property right now that may have escheated to New Jersey State: https://unclaimedfunds.nj.gov/app/claim-search