When someone dies, the person administering the estate needs to let the beneficiaries know what they are entitled to.
All too often, beneficiaries are challenging to track down. And that can have a significant impact on the probate process.
Finding an identified beneficiary
If you know the name of a beneficiary (for example, if they are mentioned in the Will), then the process of locating them isn’t usually too difficult.
Things you can do to find them include:
- Placing a note in the newspaper
- Asking family members and friends to help
- Using a Tracing Agency.
As an executor, you must make reasonable efforts to try and find them, so it is worth speaking to your solicitor if you are struggling to do so.
Finding an unknown beneficiary
According to the latest figures, there are currently almost 9,000 unclaimed estates in the UK. And the total amount of this unclaimed inheritance could be worth billions.
In many cases, these estates remain unclaimed because the deceased did not leave a Will, and it is unclear if there are any living relatives entitled to this inheritance.
Under the UK’s inheritance laws (Rules of Intestacy), when someone dies without a Will, people who are blood relatives of the deceased could be entitled to a share of the estate. Even distant relations could be in for a windfall. However, if no heirs are found the estate will be passed on to the Government (the Crown).
It can be difficult to establish who the beneficiaries are, but your probate solicitor will be able to help. Often this involves you pulling together a family tree and using a Tracing Agent to do the rest.
It’s not enough to find any living relative, they have to be the right person to benefit under the Intestacy rules.
Where a beneficiary can’t be found, you may have to administer the estate regardless. But, you must ensure you are protected in case someone comes forward at a later date and makes a successful claim on the estate.
To protect yourself from liability you could:
- Obtain insurance specific to this situation
- Apply for a Court Order to determine how the Estate should be distributed
- Make a payment to the Court under S.63 Trustee Act 1925 (leaving a nominal sum in an estate).
Ultimately, you are financially liable for searching for missing beneficiaries, so specialist legal advice is strongly recommended.
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