My mother was a bookkeeper, first for the Air Force during World War II, and later for my father’s business. She liked to organize bank statements, write checks, pay bills, and reconcile her bank accounts, of which she had several. The IRS requires that you keep the previous seven years of expense records to support your business, but my mother exceeded that requirement by 400 percent. When she passed away, in addition to the business records, she had multiple checking accounts, about 30 credit cards, investments with several financial consultants and banks, along with years of records.

If you want to locate someone’s credit accounts, start with credit agencies. However, they’re not always up-to-date, so I called every card account in her pile to double-check its status. I learned that many of her credit accounts were defunct and, all but one, unused.

Account closure practices, from credit lenders, varied widely. Some responded to a quick phone call, while others required that I mail a death certificate and a copy of letters estamentary, which showed that I was the legal representative of my mother’s estate.

Along with the credit cards, I contacted the bank of each checkbook and any other accounts that I discovered. I learned that nearly all of the accounts were either defunct, or barely used. On the whole, my research into the thousands of records on her shelves, my calls to banks, and the forwarded mail from financial institutions revealed that a small percent of her accounts held current assets or debt. Most of her financial records had value as only potential confetti or shipping filler.