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What if an Heir to an Estate with a Will Cannot Be Found?

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When someone dies, their assets are distributed according to their will or trust. If there is no will, trust, or other estate planning document that dictates property distribution, then the assets will pass by way of “intestate succession.” Property will go to the nearest living relative (e.g., a spouse), then the next level of relative (son or daughter), and so on, in accordance with state law. What happens if certain assets are to be distributed to a particular heir who cannot be found?
What happens if notice of the probate of a will is due for a particular heir who cannot be found? Read on to learn about what happens when an heir is missing from probate, and reach out to a dedicated forensic genealogist for seasoned, qualified, and thorough help identifying the proper heirs to an estate.

Required Efforts to Find an Heir

The administrator or executor to the estate is responsible for administering the estate in accordance with the wishes of the decedent, as laid out in a will or trust, as well as the laws of the state. If certain property or assets are designated in a will for a certain heir, then the administrator must undertake reasonable efforts to locate that heir. “Reasonable efforts” or proper due diligence includes more than just looking at the last phone number, address, or email address available for the heir.

Due diligence to locate the missing heir includes the obvious, such as calling known phone numbers and mailing notice of the probate issue to the last known address. The administrator should also contact known family members to see if they have relevant information, search through social media sites and other internet sources, use “people search engines”, post a notice in the newspaper, and otherwise use their best efforts to find the heir. Depending on the value of the property, “reasonable efforts” may mean spending more time and money to find the missing person. A forensic genealogist can help administrators locate missing heirs when the basics fail to satisfy due diligence requirements.

If the value of the asset to be transferred is minuscule, the administrator is likely not required to expend heavy sums from the estate just to locate the missing heir. If the property is quite valuable, then reasonable efforts may require more expertise in order to satisfy due diligence requirements.

If an Heir Cannot be Found

If a certain asset is designated to go to a certain heir but that heir simply cannot be found by the administrator, then the court will need to make a decision in accordance with state law. The administrator of the estate can ask the court to make a preliminary distribution of all other assets that are going to beneficiaries and heirs who have been located, even if the final beneficiary or heir cannot be found. The missing heir’s property will likely be held in trust for a certain period of time, during which the missing heir can turn up and claim it.

Once the requisite time period has passed, or if strong proof is presented indicating that the missing heir is deceased, other heirs and legatees (non-relative beneficiaries) may petition the court for release of the assets. If the decedent died intestate and no heirs petition to obtain the property, the property would likely pass in accordance with intestate succession laws of the state, which may mean going to the other identified heirs of the decedent or the heirs of the missing heir.

If There Are No Other Heirs

If all of a decedent’s heirs have predeceased and/or cannot be found by all reasonable means, then the inheritance will go “unclaimed.” As we previously discussed, when there is no direction from the will concerning what to do with an inheritance and there are no family members to inherit by way of intestate succession, the property will eventually “escheat” to the state. The state will take possession of the assets and do with it as the state sees fit. If the heir manages to show up years later, they may file a petition to get the value of their unclaimed property back from the state.
If you’re an estate administrator in need of skilled assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate and for determination of heirship proceedings, or heir research services in order to satisfy due diligence requirements, contact the seasoned and efficient forensic genealogists at Von Langen, LLC at 561-748-2936.