When you agreed to be an executor for a close friend’s or family member’s estate, they may have assured you that their estate plan was detailed, organized, straightforward and would be easy to administer. For the most part, it is. There’s just one problem: You can’t locate one of the beneficiaries.
These days, it’s hard for someone to completely disappear unless they put a good deal of effort into doing so. We leave a digital trail virtually everywhere we go. However, no one seems to know where this person is or if they’re even still alive.
What are “reasonable efforts?”
You’ve tried their last known address, phone number, and email. You’ve looked through social media sites. You even looked on Legacy.com to see if there’s an obituary. A thorough Google search is turning up nothing current.
As an executor, you’re required to make “reasonable efforts” to locate a missing beneficiary. If you’ve done all the things noted above, that’s a good start. However, you’ll probably need to move beyond what you can find on your computer.
You can try to locate relatives (assuming they’re not also your relatives) who might know where they are, former roommates or employers. Just don’t give them specific information about the inheritance. How much else do you need to do?
The size of the inheritance determines how much effort is required
The time, money and effort that you’re required to spend on a missing beneficiary usually depend on the amount of their inheritance. If it’s either a large sum of money or something like a house, you may need to hire a private investigator who specializes in these cases or a forensic genealogist.
Before you start spending money from the estate, it’s probably wise to get some legal guidance. You’ll also need to notify the probate court and seek direction from them. If they want you to continue searching, ask if you can go forward with the other distributions. Typically, when that happens, the missing beneficiary’s inheritance is placed in a trust until they’re found or determined to be deceased.
If the beneficiary isn’t located after a specified time or proven to have passed away, you can look to the estate plan to see if there was an alternate beneficiary or the family can ask the court to return the assets to the estate for distribution among the other beneficiaries.