Introduction to How to Locate Heirs and Beneficiaries
Once appointed as the executor or administrator of an estate and given letters of administration, often the next task to be completed by the executor or administrator is one of the most complex tasks: identifying and locating the heirs and/or beneficiaries of the decedent. If this deceptively difficult task is not accomplished, it may be impossible for the executor/administrator to fulfill any of his or her other obligations. Even where the decedent has died testate or has created a trust, locating the heirs and beneficiaries can be a time-consuming task if the heirs and beneficiaries have moved away from the immediate area. Where the decedent died intestate, locating heirs is even more challenging. Thankfully, though, there are some steps executors/administrators can take to try and locate a decedent’s heirs and/or beneficiaries. See the article from the Huffington post on finding heirs.
Steps to Locate Missing Heirs and Beneficiaries
To discover the identity and whereabouts of heirs and/or beneficiaries, the executor/administrator need not pay hundreds of dollars to private investigators (although this may be warranted in certain extreme cases). Instead, executors/administrators should begin their search with the following steps:
- Ask the surviving family members, friends, and neighbors for help. Often the most obvious solution can yield surprising results. If the decedent has any living family members, friends, or neighbors, ask them to help you identify and locate any potential heirs or beneficiaries. The decedent’s siblings may be able to help you identify all of the decedent’s living heirs, or a neighbor may know of the whereabouts of an heir who lives far away but visited the decedent each year during the holidays. Do not pass up these obvious sources of information.
- Review documents and records of the decedent. If the decedent’s family and friends are not able to tell you much, consider reviewing documents and mementos owned by the decedent. Photographs of the decedent’s family may help you identify heirs, as can a family Bible or other important, personal book that contains the decedent’s genealogy. These documents and sources may not help you locate a specific person, but they may be able to give you enough information to help you carry on with your search.
- Consult official birth, death, and marriage records. If you have the name and birth date of an heir, you may be able to consult your state’s office of vital statistics to learn if that heir has died, has been married, and/or has been divorced. Depending on your state’s specific laws, you may need to produce the testamentary letters you received from the court when you were appointed as executor/administrator. Using these records can not only help you locate potential whereabouts of heirs, but it can also help narrow the scope of your efforts by keeping you from needlessly searching for an heir that has passed away.
- Publish a legal notice in one or more newspapers. As a last resort, you may obtain permission from the court to publish a notice in one or more local newspapers asking for any heirs to identify themselves to you. To achieve the maximum benefit from this approach, you may need to publish notices not only in the paper local to the place where the decedent died but also the area(s) where you have reason to believe an heir may reside.
You Must Make Reasonable Efforts to Locate Heirs and Beneficiaries
As an executor/administrator, you must take all reasonable measures available to you to locate the decedent’s heirs and/or beneficiaries. While these steps are no guarantee that all of the decedent’s heirs and/or beneficiaries will be located, they are reasonable and simple steps that can help you fulfill your legal responsibilities.