For many people, savings bonds have been a long-time favorite investment tool. The bonds usually take years to fully mature, but people often forget about them during the maturation period. In some cases, the owner of the bonds dies before cashing in the bond and the owner’s family members later discover it and ask for help from a probate attorney. Electronic bonds have specific instructions for these bonds when an owner dies. For paper bonds, the following steps outline how to cash in, reissue, or distribute a savings bond when the owner dies.
Who owns the bond? For starters, identify who owned the savings bond. Savings bonds are registered with the Treasury Department, and the person identified on the bond is the owner.
If two owners are named on the paper savings bond and only one of them has died, the surviving owner owns the bond. A surviving owner can (1) do nothing, (2) redeem it, or (3) have it reissued. A savings bond can be redeemed at some banks with proper identification and supporting documents. If the bond is reissued, it will be reissued as an electronic bond.
If there was one owner on the bond and that person is dead, the savings bond becomes part of owner’s estate. If there are two owners named on the bond and both people are dead, the savings bond becomes part of the estate of the person who died last.
Who is the beneficiary of the bond? When there is no surviving owner, whoever seeks to act on the bond will have to show entitlement to it or authority to act for the beneficiary of the bond. For example, envision a beneficiary who inherited savings bonds from a now-deceased parent, and that parent had inherited the same bonds from his or her own parents who have been deceased. The beneficiary will need to first prove the parent’s right to claim the bonds. And then the beneficiary will then need to prove entitlement to the bond through the parent’s estate. Usually the beneficiary will need to show a certified copy of a death certificate with a visible seal along with evidence that beneficiary is an heir to the estate or a personal representative of the estate.
When the savings bond becomes part of an estate, there are several options:
- If the bonds are $100,000 or less and the estate has not been formally administered through court, the beneficiary can request to cash in the bond by mailing a signed and notarized FS Form 5336 with the bond and proof of death to the Bureau of Public Debt.
- If the estate is being administered by a court or if the bonds are over $100,000, the court appointed personal representative can redeem the bonds by sending evidence of appointment with a certified copy of death certificate, a Form FS 1455, and the bond.
- If the estate has already been administered by a court, whether as a standard probate or as a small estate, then the beneficiary should send proof of death with the bond. The beneficiary should also send a notarized affidavit explaining that the bonds in the small estate belong to named individuals or a final accounting from the estate. A Form FS 5394 is necessary for bonds left to a number of heirs who must all agree with the specific distribution of the bonds.
The forms for each scenario are accessible on www.treasurydirect.gov. While cashing in a savings bond could be easy, ask for help from a probate attorney if you encounter problems. There are also tax implications with cashing in a savings bond, so seek out a trusted tax advisor for guidance.