Estate-filter: How to cash a check made out to a long-inactive non-probate estate?
September 25, 2012 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Misterben, my husband, is the sole beneficiary of the estate of his late grandmother, who died over twelve years ago. Last month, it came to light that his grandmother had a life insurance policy, and the insurer sent a check to Misterben's cousin D (his grandmother's niece, and the executor of the estate). Cousin D was unable to cash the check because it was made out in the name of the grandmother's estate. Neither the cousin nor Mr B have a copy of the will to prove that D is in fact the executor, since it was so long ago. The estate was too small to have gone into probate court, and neither Mr B nor cousin D remember the name of the lawyer who handled it. What can Mr B and/or his cousin do that would enable them to get the check cashed? The estate was in Florida, D lives in South Carolina, and Mr B lives in Washington state. There are no personal issues between Mr B and his cousin, and the cousin is happy to pass along the money once she can cash the check. It is a not huge but not insignificant amount, so he does not want to let it go.
posted by matildaben to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you call the probate court in the jurisdiction of the estate, there will likely be someone there who can answer questions for you about how to get the documents you need to prove that your grandmother is deceased and to allow someone else, on behalf of the estate, to cash the check.
posted by decathecting at 9:43 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but this seems to call for Probate to get involved now. Fortunately, it seems Florida won't make you go through the full probate process. Get a lawyer in Florida who is an expert in Summary Administration (which is what they call small estate administration).
posted by inturnaround at 9:45 AM on September 25, 2012

The weird thing about estates is that the estate is, for all intents and purposes its own "person" that lives for the amount of time between when a person dies and when their estate is settles. It has its own SSN and can accept and send money and has legal responsibilities. I have been through the estate process reasonably so I am likely not telling you anything you don't know but I think the order of operations here is

- contact the probate court in Florida
- look for old paperwork with the name of the lawyer on it
- possibly contact the insurance company
- possibly contact the IRS to see if taxes were filed which might or might not give you access to the name of a lawyer

If this was twelve years ago and the amount was small, I'd prepare yourself for some sort of hassle since many of these sorts of checks (in my experience) have that sort of "Must be cashed in bla bla bla time period" but I wish you luck trying to find a way to sort this out.

Sort of related: we had to contact a lawyer who had filed some paperwork for my family in the eighties in order to manage a part of the estate I am dealing with. I had presumed this was going to be a total nightmare but often big time offices that deal with this level of thing are pretty great in their record keeping so hopefully once you find the proper people you can actually move forward on this.
posted by jessamyn at 9:48 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call the insurance company and ask if there is a named beneficiary or a sub beneficiary ( in case the named one is deceased). They should write the check to the named beneficiary. Now if it is either Misterben or Cousin D you are all set. Otherwise you will have to go through the probate courts, but most likely as a small estate, depending on the amount of the policy. E.G in MA small estates are limited to $15k.
posted by Gungho at 10:03 AM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: Gungho, all of the named beneficiaries are deceased (I left out that part), which is why the insurance company reached out to my husband to help them find the executor of the estate, which is D. They have already written and sent the check to D. The amount is such that it makes it a small estate (under $5K).
posted by matildaben at 10:10 AM on September 25, 2012

Is the check 12 years old? I wouldn't expect to be able to cash a check past a year, and there is probably an expiration on any check issued by an insurance company, regardless.

The money may already have been deposited in the (estate's) state's unclaimed property fund, and you would need to follow the appropriate procedures for claiming it through that office.
posted by dhartung at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: The check is as of last week.
posted by matildaben at 11:49 AM on September 25, 2012

I know my Mom and Dad had copies of their wills on file with the clerk of court in their counties prior to their death. Is is possible there is still a copy available through the county courts? You could get a copy of the death certificate there too.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 2:32 PM on September 25, 2012

This varies by state, but in general, if there is no will and no evidence of a will, a probate estate or summary proceedings for smaller amounts can be commenced based on intestate succession.

Someone suggested finding "an expert in Summary Administration". Legal expertise is not cut that finely. An estate lawyer in Florida is the one to contact.
posted by megatherium at 4:54 PM on September 25, 2012

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