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How to locate missing heirs

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2023 | Estate Planning

Every family is unique, and that means every family can have uniquely different problems and conflicts. Sometimes those problems or conflicts can cause family members to drift apart, fall out and lose touch entirely – and that can be a major difficulty when it comes time to distribute an estate and one of the heirs can’t be located.

If you’re the executor of the estate, you can’t simply distribute the deceased’s assets to the heirs you can find. Instead, you need to show the court that you’ve done your due diligence when it comes to trying to find that missing heir.

What steps can you take to find an absent heir?

Generally speaking, you have to show that you made a reasonably diligent attempt to find any missing heirs. Exactly what that means may change over time, but some steps you can take include:

  • Putting notices in the local newspaper to encourage the heir or someone who knows the heir to come forward
  • Trying to contact the heir through mail forwarding services at their last known address
  • Checking with their last known employer to see if they have a forwarding address
  • Post a notice on local online communities, like NextDoor
  • Search for them through social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram
  • Try to locate them through distant relatives, old friends and neighbors
  • Check with the alumni association of their high school or college for an address
  • Try an online “people finder,” through a Google search
  • Checking with obituaries and death records in their local area and with the Social Security Administration

If none of this is successful, you may have to consider hiring a professional investigator or a professional heir-finding service to show that you’ve thoroughly exhausted all avenues for the search. That way, the probate can eventually move forward.

Being the executor of someone’s estate is actually a lot more complicated than most people realize. You can find yourself struggling to understand the logistics of the processes and to keep up with your other commitments without experienced legal guidance.