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How do I get information about an old account?

March 30, 2012

By Richard Barrington | MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

money market account

Q: How can I tell if my deceased great aunt's money market account is still active? I am the executor for her estate, and in her papers I found a money market account number. I asked the bank whether this account was still active, and if not, when it was closed and who closed it. The bank told me they had no records of it because they destroy their records after three to five years. Any closure you can help me get on this would be helpful.

A: Technically, the bank's response might be accurate, but it still seems a little odd. Back in the days when paper records were the primary source of account information, it was commonplace to destroy records after a period of time for sheer space reasons. However, in the era of digital records -- which by now should stretch back quite a few years -- banks should be able to access records going further back in time, even though they may not be legally required to retain records for that long.

If nothing else, the bank should be able to tell you definitively whether the account is active. This is the most important issue here. First of all, only if the account is active does it really matter for purposes of the estate, and second, if the account is active, the bank should have up-to-date records for it.

If the bank does not show an active account with that number, it's likely that their records should be able to give a termination date, even if the information is too old to provide details on who cancelled the account.

Regarding the information about the money market account you found in your late aunt's papers, one important issue is how recent that is. If it is decades old, and the account was subsequently terminated, then the bank may genuinely have no way of knowing what became of the account. However, the information you found is from sometime in past 10 years or so, one would be hard-pressed to believe that the bank couldn't produce any information at all about it. If the information is from sometime within the past couple years, then the bank should absolutely be able to give you a complete accounting of it.

Start with a letter documenting your role as executor, and make an affirmative assumption: State that you have reason to believe that your late aunt had an account with their bank (cite the account number) and that you would like to know the status of that account. Send it by certified mail to the branch manager, and follow up with a phone call. Good luck!

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