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What do you do about a missing heir to an estate?

On Behalf of | Aug 28, 2023 | Estate Planning

Family dynamics can be very complicated, and that doesn’t necessarily make estate administration easy on the executor or personal representative – especially when one of the heirs to an estate has been out of touch for a while.

One of an executor’s biggest responsibilities is making sure that all heirs and beneficiaries of an estate have proper notice. At a minimum, they need to show that reasonably thorough attempts to locate a missing heir have been made before probate can be closed.

Here are several places to start

People lose touch with their relatives for all kinds of reasons. They may have addiction issues and be living on the streets. They may have had a falling out with someone and simply moved away. They may have even died in some far-flung location and the family doesn’t know. 

With that in mind, here are some possible steps that an estate administrator may take to show that they’re doing their due diligence:

  • Search property records in the heir’s last known location
  • Look for voting records in the state of their last known address
  • Send mail to last known addresses with forwarding requested
  • Contact their known friends, romantic partners and other relatives
  • Look for them through prior employers or places they frequented
  • Publish a notice in the local paper or papers asking them to reach out
  • Do an online search via social media to see if they have any accounts
  • Hire a private investigator to see if there are any other possibilities

If the heir has been entirely out of reach for at least five years and there’s no indication they’re alive, it may also be possible to ask the probate court to declare them deceased. (That would then require their share of the estate to be probated so that it can eventually pass to their heirs.)

When a missing heir complicates the probate process, it’s always wise to seek experienced legal direction.