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Locating missing heirs: A guide for executors

On Behalf of | Dec 16, 2022 | Estate Administration And Probate |

As the executor of someone’s estate, you have many responsibilities. Not the least among those tasks is your duty to notify the heirs of the deceased in writing about their loved one’s passing and the opening of probate.

But, what if someone who has an interest in the estate – whether they’re named in the will or are an heir under the law – isn’t easy to locate? This is actually a common problem.

You have to exercise due diligence and make a reasonable search

People get estranged and even familial relationships can fall apart unexpectedly. A missing heir may have lost contact because of personal disputes within the family, due to problems with addiction or in an effort to simply reinvent themselves somewhere else. You may or may not find them – but you do have to look.

In general, there are several methods the court may expect you to try. These include:

  • Contacting the missing heir at their last known address
  • Trying to reach them through known romantic partners, other relatives or friends
  • Looking through property records in the area they were last located
  • Checking voter registration records in the county where they last lived
  • Reaching out to their last known employer or business partners
  • Contacting their prior landlord to see if they left forwarding information
  • Publishing a public notice in the legal section of the local newspaper
  • Checking public records online and looking for social media accounts

If the estate is small, you may not be required to go much further. If the value of the estate is significant and the heir stands to inherit a sizable amount of assets, you may be required to hire a private investigator to track down the heir before the court will allow probate to proceed.

Missing heirs are just one of the many issues that can crop up unexpectedly when you’re trying to administer someone’s estate. Because the requirements of the law can be confusing unless you have a lot of experience handling these things, it’s often wisest to seek help.