How Can Executors Find Missing Beneficiaries?

Rebecca Parr

If you are an appointed an executor in a will, what does this mean and what should you do if you cannot find one of the beneficiaries to the will? The executor’s primary responsibility is to administer the estate of the deceased, and distribute according to the terms of the will. But what if you do not know who one of the beneficiaries is, what do you need to do?

The answer is, that you must take reasonable steps to search for the missing or unknown beneficiary otherwise if a claim is made, you could be held personally liable to pay that beneficiary his or her share of the estate, which could be extremely costly.

There are a number of ways in which to try and locate beneficiaries as follows:

  • By placing notices in newspapers local to the deceased and/or where the beneficiary was last known to live;
  • Instructing an enquiry agent to carry out an investigation as to where the beneficiary may be; or
  • Instructing a genealogy firm who will prepare a family tree.

If the above fails and the beneficiary cannot be found, there are a number of ways in which an executor can protect himself or herself in case any future claim is a made by a beneficiary who later comes forward. These are as follows:

  • By obtaining missing beneficiary insurance which will pay out if the beneficiary subsequently comes forward;
  • Keeping a reserve fund in the event that that the beneficiary comes forward later;
  • Obtaining an indemnity from the other beneficiaries (this could be risky if the other beneficiaries are unwilling or unable to pay); or
  • Applying to the Court for a "Benjamin Order" which is an order from the Court which determines how the estate should be distributed.

Our private client team have a wealth of experience in tracing missing beneficiaries and if you are dealing with an estate where a beneficiary cannot be found and would like some further advice then please do not hesitate to contact one of the team who will be happy to discuss your matter further with you