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Tips for locating missing heirs and beneficiaries

When entering into probate administration, an executor may not always know the location or even the identity of a named heir or designated beneficiary. Sometimes family members may have been missing or estranged for a number of years prior to the decedent's death. Since the location and notification of those individuals is part of the executor duties, it can become a very time consuming and frustrating process. Allow us to give you a few tips that may assist in your search.

First, understand that it is of vital importance that, as the executor of a will, you keep detailed records of your attempts to locate someone. These will also need to be filed with the court. In the event that an heir or beneficiary are unable to be located, it will be the probate judge's decision as to what should be done with their portion of a distribution. He or she must have documentation showing that every attempt possible was made to locate the person.

Second, collect every bit of information you can about the person. Useful information and documents can often be found in the belongings of the deceased or from other family members. Word of mouth is also useful. The names of friends, last known location, or other possible family members can greatly assist in furthering a search.

Third, use modern technology. Modern conveniences such as the Internet and social media have made the task of locating anyone in the world much less daunting. Individuals can be tracked through the pages of known associates, friends, employers or other possible family members.

An executor could even post a photograph of the person asking for information and have their friends share it out. However, many probate courts will still require a newspaper publication for at least three consecutive weeks in a regional newspaper of the person's last known location. If no contact is made once the required time has run, proof of the publication should be obtained from the news source and filed with the probate court.

Last, if all of your own attempts are to no avail, consider hiring a private investigator. Probate attorneys often can provide great references for people or companies who can help. It is important to understand these matters completely, as this will help protect your rights.

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