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Beneficiary and Heir Notice Requirements Vary Broadly by State

Pensioner and daughter with social employee

When working as an estate executor, public administrator, trustee, fiduciary, or personal representative, one of your most important—and sometimes, challenging—tasks is locating and notifying the heirs or beneficiaries of their rights or entitlement to a portion of the proceeds. In some cases, the heirs may be known to you or may be clearly identified along with recent contact information. In other cases, you may not know a beneficiary’s legal name, whereabouts, or whether or not they exist.

Each state imposes different notice requirements on administrators

Each state’s laws require that administrators and executors take steps to provide notice to those with rights under an estate or trust. The form of notice required, as well as what must be included in that notice and the deadline by which it must be provided, can vary dramatically between jurisdictions. For example, Florida law typically allows notice to be delivered via email, except in rare cases where formal notice through personal service is required. In California, notice to heirs or beneficiaries is typically required to be issued by mail or personal service.

When an heir’s location isn’t known, the administrator must publish notice either at the courthouse door for a month or in a local county newspaper once a month for two months, depending on the value of the estate. Notice by publication as a substitute for direct notice can only be relied on after the personal representative has filed a sworn statement with the court that, among other things, describes efforts to locate the heirs directly. When the probate process begins in California, a probate attorney or administrator must publish a notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the city in which the decedent lived at the time of their death.

The type of information that must be provided through notice to heirs also varies. In Virginia, notice to an heir of the death of a decedent must include a notice that the heir is entitled to an inventory and accounting of the contents of the estate. In some cases, persons are entitled to notice when they are no longer heirs. California law requires that someone who has been disinherited or removed as a beneficiary of a trust receive notice.

Help in locating heirs and beneficiaries

Many executors and estate administrators are experts in the law, but few have experience in genealogical research or investigation. Once the job of providing legally-sufficient notice is done, executors and administrators still have to concern themselves with whether the responding heirs reflect the entirety of the decedent or grantor’s heirship and whether the heirs are who they say they are. Heir hunters watch closely for publication notices of open estates so that they can look for these heirs (and earn a portion of the estate) themselves. Many heir hunters are less than scrupulous when it comes to looking for and confirming the identity of heirs, which can result in serious consequences for a misled administrator who grants legal rights or funds to the wrong person. Instead, entrust a skilled forensic genealogist with your heir location needs so that you can rest easy knowing that the results of an heir search are complete and verified.

If you’re an estate administrator or probate attorney who needs help locating heirs in the US or across the globe, contact the dedicated and effective forensic genealogists at Von Langen, LLC, for a consultation on your case at 561-748-2936.