One common goal for many clients is to ensure that, at death, assets are distributed to their intended beneficiaries without unnecessary delay or difficulty. As time passes, relationships may change and family members who were once close may drift apart. Beyond the emotional strain that this may cause in life, it may also bring unnecessary complexity in death.
In order to distribute assets from a deceased person’s estate, a petition is filed with the Court and all of the deceased person’s heirs must be notified, even if the person left a valid Will.
If the individual was married and had children, then the spouse and the children are theheirs. But let’s say the individual was single and had no children, in that instance the individual’s parents would be the heirs, or if they are deceased, the siblings and half-siblings. As you can imagine, it can get more complicated from there.
If a family has not been in contact for years, or even decades, locating that long-lost relative may be difficult. If an heir cannot be located through other family members or internet searches, there are companies that assist with locating heirs. If the heir still cannot be located, you may request that the Court provide notice by publication by showing the Court all of the efforts taken to locate the heir. After the notice runs in the county newspaper, the personal representative can proceed with administering the estate.
Before the estate can be closed, all of the estate assets must be distributed. If the missing heir is entitled to any portion of the estate, he or she must be located or that share must be distributed by other legal means, such as requesting that the Court hold the assets in a custodial account until the heir is located.
If you believe that it may be difficult for your personal representative to locate an heir, it would be wise to consider using a trust as part of your estate plan. If all of your assets are structured so that they flow through the trust, you can avoid probate at death and completely bypass the need to involve the Court and your heirs.