What happens when an heir can’t be found?
During estate administration, having to locate missing beneficiaries can cause additional stress. A beneficiary may be missing for several reasons, including:
• Family estrangement – the family may have lost contact with an heir
• An invalid Will – issues with the Will can lead to doubts about whether all beneficiaries are correctly identified; further research may be required
• Intestacy – when someone dies without a Will, the estate must be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The heirs may not be easy to locate
The best way to avoid missing beneficiaries is to ensure that your Will is written, up-to-date, and clear. Your Will should name and provide details for all those who you wish to benefit from your estate.
If a beneficiary is missing, there are several ways through which they can be located: asking friends and family; electoral roll data; consumer and credit databases; birth, marriage, death, and adoption records. A professional can reconstruct/verify the family tree or conduct a thorough Will search.
If all efforts to locate a beneficiary have been unsuccessful, there are several ways that distribution can proceed, such as:
• Inheritance held – their share held in case they appear later
• Inheritance distributed – their share distributed and then returned if the individual is later found
• Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance – a policy to mitigate the risk of a claim against the estate post-distribution