One thing that is clear with each probate case is that every family is different. Some families agree about what should happen with the estate, and others do not. But what happens when the person who passes away has heirs who cannot be located?
Whether an individual is an heir or a beneficiary of an estate depends on if the person who passed away, also called the decedent, had a Will. When there is a Will, the individuals or charities named in the Will are beneficiaries of the estate. But, if there was no Will, the family members who could inherit property are called the heirs.
When a probate estate is opened but some of the heirs cannot be located, the personal representative has the responsibility of locating the heirs, or at least making the best efforts possible to locate those heirs. There are a few ways that this can be accomplished.
1. Affidavit of Heirs
An Affidavit of Heirs is a document that is prepared for the court and lists all of the known heirs of the individual who passed away. It is important that the person filling out the document is familiar with the family of the decedent so that they can provide adequate information on the heirs. If there are questions about some of the relatives, it is important to try and communicate with other family members to get the necessary information. The Affidavit of Heirs asks about the names, addresses, ages, and dates of death of the relatives of the decedent. While the spouse and children are typically easy categories to complete, other relatives such as grandparents or aunts and uncles of the decedent are often a little more difficult to have all of the information for.
It should be noted that just because a relative is listed on the Affidavit of Heirs, this does not mean that they are necessarily entitled to inherit from the estate. That being said, by filling out the Affidavit of Heirs completely, the probate process can move more quickly because the court knows where the potential heirs are located.
If you want additional information on the process for completing an affidavit of heirs, please check out our article Affidavit of Heirs: Speed Up the Probate Process by Locating Heirs.
2. Heir Search
An heir search is exactly what it sounds like – it is a search for heirs. The search can either determine who the heirs are or the location of the heirs. A number of companies provide the service of conducting an heir search on behalf of someone for an estate. These companies will do a search to determine all of the heirs of an individual and attempt to locate them.
This can be useful for filling in gaps on the family tree and then being able to locate and contact those heirs if necessary. Some probates will be opened where the decedent’s heirs are. Heir searches help to provide a clearer picture of the heirs that need to be included in the probate process.
Another option that works for some families is hiring a private investigator to look into the heirs and the current addresses for those heirs. This is not the best option for every probate but may be helpful in certain situations. If you choose to use an heir search service, please ensure that you have read reviews or other information about the heir search before proceeding with a particular company.
Another option to locate heirs is to run publication in a newspaper. While this can be useful and even required by the court, publication will only help if someone sees the notice in the newspaper. The publication would include information such as the probate case number and the name of the decedent. Generally, publication will not be the only step that someone takes to locate heirs in an estate.
When there are heirs that need to be located, it is important to communicate with other family members and heirs to attempt to locate anyone whose name or address you do not know. This information is essential for the Affidavit of Heirs, which can help to progress the probate process. If there are still people whose names you do not know or if you do not know where they are currently living, an heir search can be useful to obtain that information. Finally, there is also the option of publishing a notice in a newspaper to try and locate heirs.
The process of locating heirs will be different for each family. We handle many cases where clients and heirs live outside of Florida, in different states, time zones, and countries. We are always willing to answer questions that you may have about opening a probate and locating heirs. If we cannot assist you with your case, we are happy to help you find another attorney who can. Contact us today.