How do I find old bank accounts of a deceased relative?

Q: My mother passed away in 2004. Back in 2000, she had two CDs and a checking account with the Farmers Bank of Lynchburg, with balances of $50,000 and $21,000. The bank failed in 2012. Is there any way I can locate those missing deposits? I tried contacting the bank and the Treasury Department, with no luck.

A: This is a tricky situation, and not just because the bank where you believe your mother's deposits to have been has failed. What further complicates things are the gaps in time: The time between when your mother passed away and when the bank failed, and going back even further, the four-year gap between the last balance amounts you have (2000) and your mother's passing (2004).

Those gaps make it difficult to ascertain whether there really was any money left in these accounts by the time the Farmers Bank failed, and if so, how much. So, perhaps a good place to start would be by trying to address those gaps in time.

Here are ways to find more information about old bank accounts:

1. Speak to the executor of your relative's will

One logical step would be to speak to whoever was the executor of your mother's will. This person may already have researched whatever assets your mother had at the time of death, and should be able to account for how they were disposed of after she passed away.

2. Comb through previous financial records

If that avenue does not lead you anywhere, you might try looking through any old financial records and correspondence of your mother's, if any of that is still available. The purpose of this would be to try to find more up-to-date records of her bank accounts than four years before her death.

Keep in mind that people often draw down their savings in the latter years of their lives. Between medical bills and other costs associated with care, along with the limits of Social Security and other retirement income, in many cases this depletion of assets is inevitable.

It is entirely possible that your mother had to spend down those bank accounts between 2000 and when she passed away. Unless you can find more of a continuous paper trail demonstrating that there was still money left when she died, it will be difficult for you to conclude that this was not the case.

3. Contact the FDIC and see if other banks took over assets

There are a couple other leads you can try, though these may be a long shot with the gaps in information. The best place to research old bank accounts is not the Treasury Department but the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). According to the FDIC, when the Farmers Bank of Lynchburg failed, the assets were taken over by the Clayton Bank and Trust of Knoxville, so you might try contacting them.

4. Use the FDIC's online search tool

Alternatively, the FDIC has a search tool that can help you try to locate any unclaimed funds that may be in your mother's name.

Good luck with your search. For other readers, this is a good reminder to encourage your older relatives to keep orderly financial records can be easily located if something happens to them. Come to think of it, that's good policy for everyone, young and old.

Comment: Have you had trouble locating old bank accounts? Have you found success in finding them with the steps described above?

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