If someone dies without leaving a will or naming beneficiaries, a probate judge will likely consider the next of kin the heir. Known as intestate succession, this doesn’t prevent family members who aren’t blood relatives from receiving much of the estate. Finding a missing heir can be challenging. That’s why it’s important to locate family members easily after death.
Next Avenue’s recent article, “Where’s Your Heir?” says that in some states, such as Florida, companies can help with an “heir search.” Using the information available to identify the heir, these companies do the due diligence on behalf of the executor or personal representative to locate the heirs and distribute the property or inheritance according to the (deceased benefactor’s) wishes.
Finding someone can require searching a proprietary database or looking at genealogy websites. One company helped find a missing sibling who was homeless and hadn’t been in contact with his family for more than ten years.
In another case, a mother of four children was discovered to be an adoptee only after her death. Further research found that the adoptee’s birth mother had purchased Certificates of Deposit in their names as an inheritance.
To support its networks of genealogical researchers, private investigators, and other agents across the country, these companies charge to find missing heirs.
The heir often pays the fee, ranging from 20% to 30% of the full inheritance amount.
Note that legitimate heir hunters will provide their licenses and other credentials when they first make contact. They won’t ask potential heirs to pay money before they have their inheritance. The arrangement should be a contingency where they get paid once the heir has received their inheritance.
Finding a missing heir can be challenging for an executor. With this in mind, when creating a will, an experienced estate planning attorney will have the creator of the will be as specific as possible in naming heirs or recipients of the estate.
It’s crucial to use the full legal name of each heir. Another best practice is to include the heirs’ dates of birth on documents, especially when heirs have a common name. If you would like to learn more about probate, please visit our previous posts.
Reference: Next Avenue (July 3, 2023) “Where’s Your Heir?”
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