Assessing A Ward's Property

After you have been assigned legal Guardianship for a loved one, you need to conduct a thorough assessment of his or her assets.

Normally a guardian needs to do a lot of searching to obtain all of the needed information about his or her ward’s assets. Expect to sort through your ward’s personal papers to find bank account information, certificates of deposit, stocks, and other valuable assets.

Often the guardian is in a hurry to obtain this information. Family and friends of the ward may make the process faster and easier, but you must keep your ward’s privacy in mind. Remember that your ward may not want to share his or her personal matters with certain family members or friends.

You will need to inventory the ward’s residence, and it is sometimes easier to do so while searching for valuable papers and assets. When doing this, you should have a witness with you at all times. Taking someone with experience can be helpful because he or she can help you sort for valuables and will recognize these items quickly. The witness should also be someone who is not related to your or your ward. In cases where the house is generally clean and easy to navigate, taking an appraiser with you when you search for assets is a good idea. If the house isn’t clean, take a witness with you and set aside valuable assets before the appraiser arrives. Taking along a camera or video recorder—or hiring a private video service—to document the contents of the house may also be a good idea. This provides you with a complete record of the contents of the house, and allows others to make a personal assessment of the ward’s assets if needed. Valuables that should be appraised include:

  • Antiques or collectables
  • Artworks
  • Grouped every day items (linens, garden tools, china, etc.)

When completing this process, be sure to make note of any items that are being discarded or that are no longer usable. If you donate these items to charity, be sure to obtain a receipt.

Searching The House

While you’re searching the house, be aware that individuals who are confused and/or paranoid often hide valuables in odd locations. This means that when you search for valuables, it’s important to look everywhere, including:

  • Between linens
  • In clothing pockets
  • In kitchen jars and other containers
  • In the backs of picture frames
  • Inside books
  • In attic crawl spaces
  • Under carpet corners
  • Under mattresses
  • Underneath drawers

Finding one hidden item often indicates that others exist. Therefore, if you find any hidden items, continue to search for others. You also should revisit locations that you have already searched to check hiding places that you might have originally overlooked.

Other Important Items

After you have searched the house, take any important notes or scraps of paper home with you and carefully review them. Often, these will lead you to other assets. Also make sure to locate:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage License(s) and Divorce Decree(s)
  • Medicaid cards or SSI statements
  • Social Security and Medicare cards
  • Vehicle titles

Finding these documents is important, but these will not give you all the information that you need. You should also pay special attention to deposits and disbursements in checkbooks and savings accounts to determine your ward’s recurring income and expenses. Also, look for previous income tax filings, and if you can’t find these, contact the Internal Revenue Service to request copies of filings from the past three years. Additionally, you should contact the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles to check for any cars or mobile homes registered to your ward. Public records and titles in your ward’s name—or his or her spouse’s name—may give you more information about assets. Finally, you should also check for any existing lawsuits against your ward. Note: You will need a copy of your Letters of Guardianship in order to request items in your ward’s name.

When you have carefully determined what is important and what is not, you should dispose of papers you feel are not important. Be careful to do so in an area away from the ward’s residence, as this will help to protect the ward’s privacy. The careful disposal of trash also is important for any larger physical items or knickknacks that you find. What you consider “junk” may be very important to a close family member, friend, or neighbor of the ward. These individuals may take offense to the disposing of your ward’s personal belongings. One way to avoid problems related to the disposal of these items is to call the trash collector to schedule a pick-up time.

The most important thing to keep in mind while you’re searching for your ward’s assets is privacy. Remember that you’re searching through documents and possessions that your ward has spent a lifetime obtaining, and treat these items with the respect they deserve.

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