When someone passes away, the probate process is usually straightforward.
Once the decedent’s debts and taxes are paid off, the remaining
assets are distributed to the heirs of the estate. Once in a while an
heir will be completely out of touch with the family, often because of
a disagreement from long ago.
It’s not uncommon for there to be missing heirs on occasion. Since
this does happen, each state has enacted probate laws that outline what
must be done if there is a missing heir and no one knows where to find
him or her. While these procedures are rather similar, the deadlines vary by state.
Searching for the Missing Heir
Even if the missing heir had a falling out with the decedent, or if they
moved to South America or Brazil never to be seen or heard from again,
the personal representative still must make an earnest effort to search
for him or her.
This duty is placed upon personal representatives by state law and strictly
enforced in all probate courts. Common ways a personal representative
will try to locate a missing heir, include:
- Place a notice in the local newspaper for a number of consecutive weeks
in hopes of encouraging all heirs to step forward.
- Contact each known heir personally, notifying them about the probate proceeding.
- Search for the missing heir on the Internet (e.g. Googling their name and
looking for social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google +).
- Have a probate attorney contact the Social Security Administration and
have them send a letter from the lawyer to the missing heir’s last
- Contact the decedent’s friends and family to find out if they know
how to contact the missing heir.
- Post an ad on Craigslist.
- If all else fails, hire a reputable heir finder or investigator.
If the personal representative’s exhaustive search for the missing
heir is unsuccessful, the missing heir’s inheritance will be placed
in a trust for a specific length of time according to state law.
After that period of time expires and the missing heir has still not been
located, the inheritance will go to the next beneficiary in line to inherit
under the state’s intestate succession laws. Usually, the next heir
in line is the missing heir’s next of kin, such as any children.
If the missing heir has no next of kin, the inheritance passes on to the state.
If you are a personal representative or a descendent of a missing heir
who needs legal advice from a probate attorney, search through our directory
to find a lawyer near you!