What If I Can't Find a Beneficiary?
As an executor or trustee, your job is to distribute your deceased loved one’s money and property according to the terms of their will or trust. Sometimes, beneficiaries are difficult to find. This might be due to family conflict, or simply losing touch. What should you, as the fiduciary, do if you can’t locate the beneficiary of a will or trust?
As a fiduciary, you have a responsibility to use reasonable diligence to locate any missing beneficiaries. What is considered reasonable depends on the circumstances. That includes:
What efforts have been made before to locate the beneficiary; and
How much money or property is at stake.
As a first step, you should call the beneficiary’s last known full number. If you don’t get a response, send a notice of estate administration or trust administration to their last known address. A qualified estate attorney can help you with this.
If this fails, then you should contact family members or friends for information on the beneficiary's whereabouts. Additionally, you can:
Search social media and other people-search sites online;
Publish an ad in the newspaper;
Check property records;
And take any other steps necessary to locate the person
The amount of effort required to locate a missing beneficiary is relative to the value of property they are set to inherit. If it's not much, then, legally speaking, you don’t need to expend an exuberant number of resources to locate them. But if it's a lot, extra steps like hiring an investigator or using an heir search service may be necessary.
Heir Search Services
Heir search services locate missing beneficiaries using highly trained forensic genealogists and estate investigators. These experts conduct searches across the United States, or even globally, depending on the case. They often have access to more records than you might find yourself, like:
court documents from other cases; and
By using an heir search service, you can confirm the identity of your beneficiaries. This way, you know that you are giving distributions to the right person.
If you can't find the missing beneficiary with the help of a professional heir search service, you may be able to ask the court permission to make a preliminary distribution of money and property to beneficiaries who have been located. The court will likely order that the missing beneficiary's property be held in trust for a specific amount of time, as determined by state law. This would give the missing beneficiary time to claim it. You may want to consider purchasing indemnity insurance in case the missing beneficiary later arises and attempts to claim their part of the estate or trust after it has been dispersed.
An experienced estate administration or trust administration attorney can help you navigate the court system.
Consulting with an Attorney
If a beneficiary cannot be located, it can take some time to locate them, which creates delays in the estate or trust administration process. If the identified beneficiaries get impatient, it may lead to more issues. In these types of situations, hiring a legal professional can be helpful. Someone who has experience with missing beneficiaries. Someone who knows how to handle impatient ones without jeopardizing your fiduciary interests.
The experienced estate and trust administration attorneys at DuPont & Blumenstiel in Dublin, Ohio can help you. With us, you can confidently know that you have fulfilled your ‘reasonable diligence’ requirement in locating beneficiaries. We are familiar with all Central Ohio County Probate Courts and will work with them to settle the estate. We will make sure that the administration process goes as smoothly as possible, and that your loved ones are taken care of. Call us today at 614-389-9711 for a consultation.
Just getting started with estate administration? Check out our Probate Checklist to find out what documents you’ll need.