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Preventing the problem of “lost heirs” in estate administration

When someone passes away, their executor is tasked with finding their beneficiaries and ensuring they receive their portion of the estate. One of the issues that can lengthen or derail this process is “lost heirs” — that is, heirs of beneficiaries whose whereabouts are unknown or are otherwise difficult to get ahold of. Fortunately, there are a few things that California estate planners can do to prevent their next of kin from dealing with this issue:

  • Provide full information about beneficiaries/heirs in the will, including first name and last name, city and state
  • Keep an updated address list with all the heir’s information, and inform the executor as to where to find this document
  • Create a family tree and prepare some background information on closest relatives — this is especially important for those without a written will
  • Discuss the differences between beneficiaries and heirs with a lawyer, to ensure the contact information kept is for the correct people

These activities can be somewhat challenging for some, especially if the family is estranged in any way or if one family member is difficult to pin down. Fortunately, there is some recourse for an executor dealing with the lost heir issue. For example, using an heir locator may be a helpful option. Heir locators, also known as “forensic genealogists,” can do research to find people whose whereabouts may be unknown. In addition, executors can work with a lawyer to ensure the necessary conversations are had for the needs of probate, without breaching the privacy of an individual who may otherwise want to limit contact.

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