How do you locate missing heirs and beneficiaries?

On Behalf of | Feb 20, 2024 | Probate

Nothing can slow the probate process down quite like a missing heir or beneficiary that you need to notify. Whether they’re likely to receive anything or not, their “status unknown” can create a lot of headaches for the executor of an estate.

Since you cannot proceed with probate and close the estate until the beneficiary or heir is found or the court is satisfied that they cannot be located, here are some steps to take:

1. Start with their last known address

Sometimes you can find someone simply by sending a piece of mail to their last known address and making it “return service requested.” If they left a forwarding address that is still active, the U.S. Post Office will return the mail to you with the new address.

2. Ask their family members or friends

Just because someone is estranged from the testator, that doesn’t mean they’re estranged from their entire family. Cousins, aunts, uncles and siblings may be quietly aware of the “missing” person’s location all along.

3. Try an online search 

The internet is a big place – and most people leave some kind of digital footprint. Check voting registration records in the state where they were last known to live, property records and other public databases. Social media, too, should be checked. 

4. Hire an heir locator

These are forensic genealogists and private investigators who can sometimes help you track down a missing heir for a fee. While it’s an additional cost to the estate, it may be a worthwhile expense to keep things moving forward.

If you’re an executor who is puzzled about how to proceed when a beneficiary or heir can’t be located, don’t panic. Legal guidance can help you find a solution.