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What if a beneficiary can’t be located?

On Behalf of | Jun 26, 2023 | estate administration |

Of all the potential problems that may have kept you up at night during the early days of administering someone’s estate, not being able to locate a beneficiary probably wasn’t one of them. But here you are. These days, it seems like you can locate anyone via social media or a Google search. Someone in the deceased’s family should know who and where they are. That’s not always the case, however.

A lot of people go “off the grid” – even if they don’t know that term. They may have no contact with their family, reinvent themselves or feel like they need to keep a low profile for safety reasons. People often become unhoused due to substance abuse and mental health issues. All of these things are possible reasons for not being able to locate a beneficiary. However, it could be as simple as having an incorrectly spelled or old name. If someone didn’t have help with their will, they may have listed a beneficiary as “John, who used to work at the library in Murfreesboro.”

What are you required to do as an executor?

How much time and money are you expected to spend looking for an heir or other beneficiary? It depends, in part, on how much they’ve inherited. However, the probate court will expect you to make a reasonable effort to find any missing beneficiary, regardless. That means talking to other family members and friends of the deceased. There are numerous search sites online where you can get addresses and phone numbers – sometimes at no cost. But, if a person has a very common name, you don’t have the correct spelling or you have no idea what part of the country they’re in, you may still not have any luck.

If these initial search efforts don’t pay off, you’ll need to go to the judge handling the probate and find out if they expect you to do more. This could include hiring a private investigator or forensic genealogist if the inheritance is substantial. If you’re able to confirm that the beneficiary is deceased or if they cannot be found, the inheritance will either go to a named contingent beneficiary or be returned to the estate.

By seeking legal guidance as you administer an estate, you will be better equipped to deal with this kind of challenges and other issues and questions that crop up and avoid potential legal issues for yourself and the estate.