Finding a missing heir is not always easy.
Heirs are those individuals who receive inheritances from someone who has died.
Generally, these heirs are family or friends.
When people create a last will and testament, they designate their heirs.
They can include or exclude almost anyone they like.
According to a recent Next Avenue article titled “Where’s Your Heir?” those who die without a last will forfeit this fundamental opportunity.
Instead, they die intestate, and any inheritance is subject to the laws of the state.
Often, this means the heirs must be identified and located during probate.
Typically state law designates that next of kin inherit first, but distant relatives or connections can inherit.
The designated estate administrator must locate these missing heirs.
Some states allow companies to provide professional assistance in searching for heirs.
The companies are given information for identifying an heir and act with due diligence for the personal representative (executor) or court-appointed administrator to find the missing heir so the property can be distributed accordingly.
The companies may utilize a variety of services and connections in their investigation.
These include genealogy websites, propriety databases, private investigators, and other agents.
With their network of contacts and resources, these companies can often locate missing homeless heirs and find those who have been adopted.
These services are not free, but why should they be?
Heirs may be expected to pay a fee between 20 percent and 30 percent of the inheritance amount.
Does this sound similar to the Nigerian prince scam?
It is possible to identify legitimate heir hunters from frauds.
Those who are legitimate will provide credentials and licenses when making first contact with the missing heir.
They will also not request payment before the heir receives the inheritance.
Although having a missing heir when someone dies intestate is common, it is also possible when there is a valid last will.
Be very specific when naming heirs in your estate planning documents to reduce this possibility.
It would help if you utilized the full legal names and even their dates of birth.
This is especially important if your heirs have fairly common names.
Failing to do so may send your executor on a search for a non-existent missing heir.
I have found little downside to providing too much detail when creating an estate plan, especially regarding the key people named in it.
Reference: Next Avenue (July 3, 2023) “Where’s Your Heir?”