An executor’s legal duty is to distribute the deceased person’s belongings, property and money per the Will. This sounds straightforward, but what happens if one of the people due to benefit under the will (beneficiary) is unknown or missing?
It will be the executor’s, responsibility to search for missing beneficiaries. If a distribution is made without taking reasonable steps to search for a beneficiary and obtain the necessary protection, and if a successful claim is made, the executor, could be personally liable to pay. This could be a very costly mistake.
These situations can sometimes occur for various reasons but most commonly it is due to, outdated information. Beneficiary details may become outdated over time, especially in the case of distant relatives or friends.
Another reason it may be difficult to locate beneficiaries is because of disputes or estrangements within families. Disputes can often lead to breakdowns in communication making it harder for family members to be contacted. In cases where the deceased did not maintain comprehensive records or share details with family members, finding beneficiaries can be particularly challenging.
There are a few steps to take when beneficiaries are missing or unknown. For example, it’s important to thoroughly review documentation, and begin by carefully reviewing the deceased’s personal records. Will and any other legal documents. Look for any information that may lead to the identification of missing beneficiaries. Another way of trying to find out information is to contact known friends and family members who may have information about the missing beneficiaries, they could point you in the right direction. Another possible option is to search social media as in this generation the majority of people can be found on social media. In certain situations, it may be necessary to seek court approval for alternative distribution methods or to appoint a professional executor to handle the estate.
It is common to place a deceased notice in a local newspaper ( to the deceased and any property they own) and the Gazette. This informs people of the death. This offers some protection as you have informed the general public of the death and it allows people to come forward if they believe they have a claim. It proves you are making an effort to locate people.
Documentation and record-keeping
Throughout the process, maintain detailed records of the steps taken to locate missing beneficiaries. This documentation is not only essential for legal compliance but also serves as a transparent record of the efforts made to locate and include all beneficiaries.
To conclude, finding and locating unknown beneficiaries can be complex and it’s important to recognise that If you find yourself facing the challenge of missing or unknown beneficiaries, remember that seeking professional legal advice early in the process is crucial.