Dealing with Retirement Accounts of Late Sister-in-law
October 27, 2017 6:05 AM   Subscribe

My sister-in-law passed away a couple of years ago (in her 40s). My wife has not processed through a few old 401k and IRA accounts of her sister. I would like to help her with this, but I'm not the executor (she is). Can I help her with this so she doesn't have to do it? If so what do I need to get so that I can talk to companies and send then whatever paper work they require?
posted by creiszhanson to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Option 1: When I help with my husband's accounts, I often conference call with him on the line. Rep will say "Mr. Jennypower, do you give your wife permission to speak on your behalf?" He'll say yes, confirm all is ok, and hang up. Your results may vary depending on the company, some are very strict about who they will talk to.

Option 2: If they absolutely will not give you account specific instructions, ask if there's paperwork you could download and give to your wife. Then you could fill out for her and have her sign and submit.
posted by jennypower at 6:21 AM on October 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you have access to your sister-in-law's account numbers, social security numbers, and date of birth, that will help you immensely. Companies will typically let anyone call in an account holder's death, but won't discuss account details with non-beneficiaries. If your wife was a named beneficiary on her sister's accounts, the company 'should' have no problem speaking with you, or at least sending the paperwork to your wife. It may be worth having your wife get on the line as jennypower suggests if you're unsure who the beneficiaries are. Consider consulting a financial advisor on this as well, as there may be all sorts of tax implications involved. Good luck!
posted by csox at 7:13 AM on October 27, 2017

Your best bet is to operate behind the scenes. Prepare everything you can, do the research, and so on to make it easy for her to execute. Sort of like when the accountant gives you your tax returns with little sticky arrows telling you where to sign. Otherwise, assuming you're in the US, I think she'd need to grant you power of attorney over those accounts. Making that happen on the legal side is probably more trouble than it's worth. But I'm not a lawyer; my experience base here is having been an executor with a good attorney (another of the heirs) handy.
posted by DrGail at 8:28 AM on October 27, 2017

You'll need a power of attorney, or possibly an authorized representative form (e.g., Vanguard has a Full Agent Form you can find on their website, but it's not clear it authorizes all the actions you'd like to take).
posted by praemunire at 9:05 AM on October 27, 2017

Your question is two questions, to my mind

1. How do we do this by the book?
2. How do I do this, period?

People have given you good answers for #1, I will lean a little towards #2.

I would do as much of this as possible over email. With few exceptions, very little of this needs to be done over the phone (I hate the phone, I am managing my mother's estate, it's going fine) and even so, just fake it. I am not sure if these are IRAs and 401Ks your wife is also the beneficiary of? Because if not, usually that stuff doesn't go through probate (i.e. is not managed by the executor) if your wife's SiL had beneficiaries. Is the estate still open? A lot of this stuff is just obnoxious paperwork. Get a good handle on your wife's signature. Make the phone calls and just say you're your wife (no matter what your actual gender). Notarizing is the only thing that she may need to have some f2f interactions for. Find a local friendly notary. For calls...

"Hi this is $WIFE, I am trying to work out some old IRAs owned by $SiL. Can you let me know what forms I need to fill out and what I need to do next?"

The good news is that most places are pretty decent at having people in place who can deal with confused people who have also had a recent loss so you should be able to get somewhere with this. Best of luck and good on you for trying to help your wife with this.
posted by jessamyn at 10:53 AM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

You are going to be moving the $$ to new accounts. The reps at the new institutions will be very helpful, but they will need your wife's signature on various documents, and will probably want to talk to her long enough to do due diligence about her identity, her wishes, and whether the investments are appropriate. That would be a short phone call.

Or to put it another way, they have to be sure they are not helping you rip her off.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:44 PM on October 27, 2017

If your wife hasn't dealt with these at ALL, the companies might need the full executor paperwork on file before they'll talk to your wife. They will at minimum need the death certificate. If your wife is the beneficiary in addition to being the executor the death cert might be all you need to send. So you call, ask where to send a death notice and the notice of executor. After they've been notified, l this shouldn't be too hard if you know what option you want for distribution. It's going to affect her taxes, so keep that in mind. And it looks like there might be a time limit of five years, so get going. Below is the 401k info, but the IRA is probably very similar.

"If the person you inherited the 401(k) plan from was not yet age 70 ½, the 401(k) plan will allow one or both of the options below:

2. The 401(k) plan may require you to take all of the money out of the plan no later than December 31 of the fifth year following the year of the person’s death. You could take a little out each year, or wait until the last year to take it all. You will pay regular income taxes on the amount withdrawn, so you may want to take more out in years where you expect to be in a lower tax rate.

3. The plan may allow you to take the money out in annual amounts over your life expectancy according to the required minimum distribution life expectancy tables. You may be able to do this by leaving the money in the plan or by rolling it over to an account titled as an Inherited IRA. This option is often referred to as a "stretch IRA" because if you are much younger than the person you inherited from, you can stretch the distributions out over a long period of time."

posted by clone boulevard at 5:16 PM on October 27, 2017

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