When a person dies and leaves property, the heirs must be located. An heir is a blood relative who is entitled to inherit property through a deceased person’s will, or according to the laws of the state. When an heir is missing, the attorney who is handling the probate will help the family search for him. There also are free resources that can provide clues to the whereabouts of a missing heir, if you know where to look.
Collect any information that is already known about the missing person from relatives of the deceased person. Find the missing person’s date of birth and birthplace, if possible. Look for information that might lead to a prior or current address.
Gather information about the deceased person that you can use to verify the family relationship when you find and contact people who might be the missing heir. For example, the missing heir should know some of the other relatives’ names.
Type the person’s name into search major search engines. Review the listings to see if anything comes up. Look for blogs, websites, newspaper articles that mention the missing person’s name and location or phone number.
Search free online phone directories such as The Ultimate White Pages or Yahoo People Search. Type the name into Yahoo People Search and review the listings that come up to see if it is the same person. This search will provide phone numbers, addresses, websites and anything else on the Internet that includes the name.
Publish a classified advertisement in a local paper where you think the person might be located. The advertisement should state who you are searching for and why. If anyone responds, ask her questions about the deceased person to verify if she really is the heir.
Search free online people locators such as Spies Online or Skip Ease to find names, addresses and phone numbers. Type the name into social networking sites like MySpace.com, Facebook.com or LinkedIn.com. Send messages to people who might be the missing heir.
Use the contact information you have gathered to contact the person by letter or phone to find out if he is related to the deceased person.
Hire a private investigator or professional skip tracer who specializes in locating missing heirs if the free searches have failed.
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.
As a reminder, the information provided on this blog article is only to be used for general informational purposes and not intended to be used as legal advice.
Justin helps clients put together unique estate plans, including assistance with Trusts, Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Advance Directives. He also works with clients to set up Special Needs Trusts for their children.
Justin serves as a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA), a national organization comprised of legal professionals concentrating on estate planning. As a member of the Academy, he receives ongoing, comprehensive training on modern estate planning techniques.
Normally, family members can identify and locate heirs and beneficiaries to a deceased California resident’s estate. Other times, extra efforts need to be taken to locate these persons so that they can be provided notice of their right to inherit or otherwise participate in the proceeding.
California Law When a Person Dies Intestate
When a person dies without a will (intestate), California law clearly outlines who inherits the probate assets. For example, if there is both a surviving spouse and children, the spouse inherits all the community property, and one-half (1/2) of the deceased’s separate property if there is one child and one-third (1/3) of the deceased’s separate property if there is more than one child. California law outlines distribution of estates for every family situation, with the State of California to receive the assets in the event no next of kin can be located.
If an Heir or Beneficiary Cannot Be Found, the Administrator Must Exercise Due Diligence
Sometimes, whether or not the deceased died intestate, it is difficult to locate one of the heirs or beneficiaries. The Administrator must exercise due diligence in searching for them; courts are very reluctant to close probate unless every effort has been made. Here are some of the steps an Administrator may take:
HeirSearch™ provides forensic genealogy search services to legal and trust professionals to help them find missing heirs and meet their fiduciary responsibilities. Since 1967, we’ve successfully completed tens of thousands of worldwide heir searches with a 97% success rate.
Estate and Trust
We use our professional expertise to identify, locate, prove and report known and unknown heirs or beneficiaries, both domestically and internationally.
We help clients fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities in providing notice to heirs by supplying current contact information (or the results of our due diligence search efforts) in order to provide notice of estate or trust matters.
Our Search Service Expertise Includes
- Locating Missing, Unknown, or Estranged Parties for Notice or Distribution of Funds in Probate or Intestacy Matters
- Determination of Beneficiaries for Trust Termination
- Determination of Owners, Heirs Successors and Assigns for Real Property Title and Oil, Gas or Mineral Rights
- Locating Witness to Wills
- DNA Kinship Verification Learn More
- Multilingual Research Staff
- Discretionary & Ethical Research and Investigative Procedures
- Verification and / or Completion of Other Third-Party Genealogical Research
- Vital Record Searches & Obtaining Records to Prove Heirship
- Tight Timeline & Budget Management for Court-Appointed Administrators
- Expert Witness Testimony and Proving Heirship to the Court
- Family Tree Reconstruction and Validation
- Court-Accepted Affidavits & Due Diligence Reporting
- Affidavit or Declaration of Heirship Learn More
Other Search Services
Class Action Searches
Pension Plan Searches
Mass Tort Plaintiffs Search
Heirs of Wrongful Death Search
Your work was fast and accurate. Bill ended up being a bit less than originally anticipated, a nice surprise.
Mount Prospect, IL
Apr 01, 2022
Very pleased. strong communication and rapid results.
Apr 01, 2022
All of my inquiries were responded to promptly and all information was provided in great detail.
Oklahoma City, OK
Mar 24, 2022
Your services were excellent and very helpful in getting what we required for the executor.
Mar 23, 2022
Thank you very much for such a comprehensive report! I will be sending this to the court tomorrow so that we can move along with the estate.
Mar 16, 2022
We were very satisfied with how our case was handled. Thank you team for helping us solve this problem so quickly and accurately. I will definitely contact you again when we have another situation like this.
Under normal circumstances, a family member can easily help in locating missing heirs. Finding them is necessary to ensure that all the beneficiaries can be notified to receive their rightful inheritance. There are several reasons you might need to find a missing beneficiary in matters related to property, inheritance, and intestate estate to name a few. Read on as we discuss the proven ways you can follow to locate a missing heir.
Read the Presented Documents
If you are presented with a will mentioning an heir that is currently unknown to the family, finding the executor of the estate might help. An executor could be a close friend, personal attorney, or a family member that was appointed. Furthermore, reading the document thoroughly can reveal information on the name of the spouse or the children. However, if you are unable to find one, the law will require the state to exercise a due diligence search in which the officials make contact with the family members and advertise in the local newspaper in an attempt to find the missing beneficiaries.
Contacting an Attorney
Nowadays, you can find lawyers that only cater to a specific niche. In the case of a missing heir, an attorney specializing in estate or probate law can prove to be resourceful. They handle these cases daily and can provide you with direction if you are unable to execute on your own. The market is flooded with lawyers providing these services, so make sure that you choose a reputable one with a good track record.
For complicated cases where you cannot find any lead, hiring a genealogist could help in finding out the rightful heirs. These guys are officially entitled to conduct research on a family tree, procure relevant documents to prove their relationship, and report their findings that are acceptable by the court. Checking the certifications of a genealogist is crucial before you conduct any form of business. The experts who specialize in finding heirs at Record Click suggest that, besides checking credentials, you must make sure that you know about the service charges as there are fraudulent genealogists who charge huge amounts for the services you could find elsewhere.
Hire an Investigator
Besides hiring a genealogist, you can also avail the services of a private investigator that will do the work of finding the heir. They charge according to the services they provide. As there are a lot of investigators, try communicating with them or fix a meeting to know the way they would conduct business. Don’t hesitate to ask about the search process they would follow and tell them about your concerns. If you already have some important information in hand, sharing it with the investigator will help them start their investigation at a good pace. Some states in the United States require genealogists and private investigators to be licensed, so always check with the state’s relevant departments whether the company is licensed or not. Lastly, when conducting business, carefully read the financial contract and ensure that the type of services offered and the service fees are written. Moreover, check whether the company would charge by the hour or want a percentage from the inheritance.
Collecting as much information as you can, in the beginning, will set a path for the rest of your search. There is a possibility of encountering a scenario where you might want to search for the heirs after a due-diligent search has been conducted. Before collecting any bit of information, ensure that it is from an authentic source. Otherwise, you might end up wasting your time and energy.
One way to look for a missing heir in this digital era is over the internet. You can search on social media, go over dedicated forums, or use a search engine as most individuals have a digital footprint that can be easily located. There are also dedicated forums on the internet where you can post information about the missing person.
Wrapping it all up, these are the ways you can follow if you want to find missing heirs. In most cases, finding heirs is not that difficult and can be done after a bit of research. However, in scenarios where an heir cannot be found even after trying everything, there are legal options like contacting the probate court to declare the heir dead officially or by handing over the value of the missing heir’s inheritance to the country controller. In these situations, getting the help of your attorney would be a good option as you might come across technicalities that only a lawyer could get you through.
When someone dies, their assets are distributed according to their will or trust. If there is no will, trust, or other estate planning document that dictates property distribution, then the assets will pass by way of “intestate succession.” Property will go to the nearest living relative (e.g., a spouse), then the next level of relative (son or daughter), and so on, in accordance with state law. What happens if certain assets are to be distributed to a particular heir who cannot be found?
What happens if notice of the probate of a will is due for a particular heir who cannot be found? Read on to learn about what happens when an heir is missing from probate, and reach out to a dedicated forensic genealogist for seasoned, qualified, and thorough help identifying the proper heirs to an estate.
Required Efforts to Find an Heir
The administrator or executor to the estate is responsible for administering the estate in accordance with the wishes of the decedent, as laid out in a will or trust, as well as the laws of the state. If certain property or assets are designated in a will for a certain heir, then the administrator must undertake reasonable efforts to locate that heir. “Reasonable efforts” or proper due diligence includes more than just looking at the last phone number, address, or email address available for the heir.
Due diligence to locate the missing heir includes the obvious, such as calling known phone numbers and mailing notice of the probate issue to the last known address. The administrator should also contact known family members to see if they have relevant information, search through social media sites and other internet sources, use “people search engines”, post a notice in the newspaper, and otherwise use their best efforts to find the heir. Depending on the value of the property, “reasonable efforts” may mean spending more time and money to find the missing person. A forensic genealogist can help administrators locate missing heirs when the basics fail to satisfy due diligence requirements.
If the value of the asset to be transferred is minuscule, the administrator is likely not required to expend heavy sums from the estate just to locate the missing heir. If the property is quite valuable, then reasonable efforts may require more expertise in order to satisfy due diligence requirements.
If an Heir Cannot be Found
If a certain asset is designated to go to a certain heir but that heir simply cannot be found by the administrator, then the court will need to make a decision in accordance with state law. The administrator of the estate can ask the court to make a preliminary distribution of all other assets that are going to beneficiaries and heirs who have been located, even if the final beneficiary or heir cannot be found. The missing heir’s property will likely be held in trust for a certain period of time, during which the missing heir can turn up and claim it.
Once the requisite time period has passed, or if strong proof is presented indicating that the missing heir is deceased, other heirs and legatees (non-relative beneficiaries) may petition the court for release of the assets. If the decedent died intestate and no heirs petition to obtain the property, the property would likely pass in accordance with intestate succession laws of the state, which may mean going to the other identified heirs of the decedent or the heirs of the missing heir.
If There Are No Other Heirs
If all of a decedent’s heirs have predeceased and/or cannot be found by all reasonable means, then the inheritance will go “unclaimed.” As we previously discussed, when there is no direction from the will concerning what to do with an inheritance and there are no family members to inherit by way of intestate succession, the property will eventually “escheat” to the state. The state will take possession of the assets and do with it as the state sees fit. If the heir manages to show up years later, they may file a petition to get the value of their unclaimed property back from the state.
If you’re an estate administrator in need of skilled assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate and for determination of heirship proceedings, or heir research services in order to satisfy due diligence requirements, contact the seasoned and efficient forensic genealogists at Von Langen, LLC at 800-525-7722.
Your prompt, thorough and professional services have been greatly appreciated in this effort. We will keep your card on file for future use and reference to our colleagues.
After a loved one dies, their property is distributed to their heirs through the probate process. Probate occurs whether a person died with a will, or without one (intestate). Probate ensures that all debts are paid, that assets are appropriately inventoried, and that the assets are distributed to the right beneficiaries.
In many cases, probate is a relatively straightforward process. However, in some situations, the estate’s heirs may be missing – or even unknown. If heirs cannot be located, then there are several options that can be utilized to probate an estate with unknown heirs.
If your loved one has passed away and you cannot locate the heirs, a skilled probate attorney can help you probate their estate. Below, we examine the three options for probate with unknown heirs, which will allow you to move forward with the process and distribute the assets in accordance with Texas law.
Can I Probate an Estate If There are Unknown Heirs?
When a person dies, their heirs – such as a surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, and other family members – are often known. Many families have more complicated situations, including children born outside of a marriage or estranged family members. If an heir cannot be located, then it can make the process of probating the will or estate more complicated.
In Texas, a personal representative is either named in a will or appointed by a court if a person dies intestate. The personal representative is responsible for starting the probate process. If one or more heirs to an estate cannot be located, then the personal representative is required to take certain steps before the estate can be probated.
Fortunately, you can do probate with unknown heirs in Texas. There are a few ways that a personal representative can search for missing or unknown heirs to move the process forward: filing an affidavit of heirs, requesting a determination of heirship, searching for the missing heirs, and/or publishing a notification in a newspaper to find the heirs.
Option One: Affidavit of Heirs
An Affidavit of Heirs is a legal document that is prepared for the probate court. It lists all of the known heirs of the person who died (decedent), along with their names, address, ages, and dates of death (if applicable). An Affidavit of Heirs often includes people such as a spouse, children (including both biological and adopted children), grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
Listing an individual on the Affidavit of Heirs does not entitle them to inherit anything from the estate. However, it is an important step that informs the court who the potential heirs are, and where they are located. This affidavit can be filed by the personal
The person who fills out this form must be familiar with the decedent and their family in order to accurately list all known heirs. This affidavit must be sworn and notarized. If a potential heir is omitted from the affidavit, it won’t affect their right to inherit.
Option Two: Determination of Heirship
If there are missing or unknown heirs, then an application to determine heirship can be filed with the probate court. Through this process, the court determines who the heirs are, and which heir gets shares of the estate.
An application for determination of heirship can be filed by the personal representative of the estate, a creditor of the state, a person claiming to be the owner of the estate or a party who seeks the appointment of an independent administrator. Generally, a lawyer is required to file this application.
If the names and locations of the heirs are unknown, a court may also appoint a lawyer, known as an attorney ad litem, to locate unknown heirs. This process involves a court hearing (proceeding to declare heirship) with at least 2 live witnesses who can testify as to the decedent’s family and relationships.
Option Three: Heir Search
If some heirs are missing or unknown, a search can be performed to try to locate possible heirs. This may be done by a private investigator or by a company that specializes in heir searches.
An heir search is a good way to fill in gaps on a family tree, allowing the personal representative to list all potential heirs on the Affidavit of Heirs. It can be used to figure out who heirs may be – and to find the location of any heirs that may be missing.
Option Four: Publication
The third option for probate with unknown heirs is to run a publication in a newspaper. This is often required by the court and can be a useful way to find heirs. A publication will include the name of the decedent, the probate case number, and other relevant information.
However, because many people don’t read newspapers (or the notifications section), it often is not successful. For this reason, the publication is often used in conjunction with other methods – such as hiring a company to search for heirs – to get a more complete picture of a decedent’s potential heirs.
How We Can Help
After a loved one dies, the probate process can seem overwhelming. Complying with the legal requirements is often difficult when you are grieving and unfamiliar with the rules. If there are missing or unknown heirs, it can be even more challenging.
At Forbes & Forbes, we represent individuals and families throughout probate – including probate for unknown heirs. We have significant experience in all types of Texas probate and will work collaboratively with you throughout the process. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with an El Paso probate attorney, call our law firm at 915-533-5441 or fill out our online contact form.
How to Get Heir Property in Your Name if There Is No Will
If you are the heir of property but no estate planning documents provided for its transfer upon the death of the owner, all hope is not lost. Depending your state law, you may be able to do several things to get such property transferred to you.
State law determines estate distribution when someone dies intestate (without a last will and testament), but that doesn’t mean that title transfers happen automatically. As the heir, you will have to initiate the process so that you can claim what is lawfully yours. Some of the most common ways states provide for transferring property into the name of an heir when there was no will include filing a small estates affidavit or affidavit of heirship, requesting letters of administration, and initiating court proceedings.
Small Estates Affidavit
Many states have streamlined the process for transferring property from the decedent’s name into the legal recipient’s name through the use of a small estates affidavit. What qualifies as a “small estate” varies by state law. In Texas, for example, an estate must have a value of less than $75,000 to qualify as a small estate, while the amount in Illinois is $100,000. Further, some state statutes prohibit the use of a small estate affidavit if real estate is involved.
Usually the spouse of the deceased, surviving child, or other relative must complete the small estates affidavit. Some jurisdictions provide that the affidavit must be filed in court, while in others only the person who holds the property must be given the affidavit. Generally, the form is available online and isn’t complicated to complete and submit.
Affidavit of Heirship
If all heirs agree on the disposition of real property or if only one person is the heir, you may be able to clear title of property by using an affidavit of heirship. Perhaps several years have passed since the original property owner’s death and you’re just realizing you’d like to sell it, but you can’t because it’s not in your name. To establish ownership in this way, you usually need affidavits from at least two disinterested parties who are also familiar with the family of the decedent.
If there are other remaining heirs, they can execute a deed to you that passes their interests in the property to you. Alternately, if you are the sole heir and you are already in possession of the property, heirship affidavits are filed in real property records where the property is located, putting the public on notice that you are the owner.
Letters of Administration
While a small estates affidavit and an heirship affidavit allow you to avoid the probate process, sometimes these options aren’t available. If real estate is involved, the assets’ value exceeds the state statute’s limit regarding small estates, or you otherwise can’t use affidavits, you may have to request letters of administration from the court.
If you are granted letters of administration, you are considered the “administrator” of the estate, which gives you the authority to transfer title of estate assets. Again, state laws of intestacy will determine where certain property goes and, as the administrator, you would be in charge of facilitating those transfers.
If you and other heirs are not in agreement regarding the disposition of assets, you may have to file a court action to clarify ownership. This principle also holds true if illegitimate or previously unknown heirs come forward to claim the property or if the deed of title contains mistakes.
If you are faced with filing a court action to get property put in your name, you should consider seeking legal advice. The laws concerning estate transfer can get complicated, especially once court proceedings are involved, and there may be tax considerations as well.
Overall, so long as you’re following the rules of intestate succession in your state, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting heir property in your name even if the deceased didn’t have a will. By following the procedures discussed above as they pertain to your circumstances, you should have your property free and clear in no time.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.
When an estate file is opened, the first thing to be determined is if the deceased left a will or not. Next, it is necessary to locate who his (or her) beneficiaries are.
Was the Decedent married at the time of his (or her) death? Was the Decedent divorced and can a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage be located? Who are the other heirs of the Decedent? Many courts require the preparation of the filing of a Family Tree.
When no will can be found or a will does not exist, the lawyer must act in the capacity of an investigator. Documents need to be thoroughly reviewed to see if assets can be located and specifically bank accounts. These bank accounts may reveal the location of a safety deposit box and the location of a possible will. Medical records also disclose the care of an individual and clues as to the cause of death and which relatives were involved in the care and treatment of the Decedent prior to their death. The death certificate also has vital information concerning cause of death, marital status, date of death and residence.
Photographs and photo albums as well as personal documents can provide valuable clues into a person’s history. These records can be located at the residence of the Decedent or provided by the heirs.
Storage facilities can provide a treasure trove of information and can disclose hidden assets that were known to exist and which the heirs may not have been aware of.
Debts and liabilities and credit card statements provide information regarding creditors who require notice in the Probate process.
Clues lead to more clues and a thorough investigation is critical in determining the true nature and value of an Estate as well as locating all possible heirs.
An attorney ad litem may be appointed by the Court when there are missing heirs who the Court needs to diligently locate. Other attorneys may request the appointment of an attorney ad litem to act in this capacity and who can file a report with the Court which demonstrated that diligent efforts were made and the names and addresses of the heirs who are beneficiaries to the Estate.
An administrator ad litem is appointed by the Court to administer the assets and liabilities of an Estate when there is no one available to do so.
Estate settlement proceedings halt when a will beneficiary is missing. The person managing the estate, typically known as the Executor, is responsible for attempting to find any missing beneficiaries. Each state has different requirements as it relates to diligently searching.
After the Executor, through counsel, have concluded their diligent efforts the Executor is required to provide legal notices to known relatives. Publication of the Estate is required to notify creditors as well as to locate heirs. Different Courts will treat a missing will beneficiary as if he were dead or order the Estate Executor to deposit their share in a Trust Account.
State law controls who receive a person’s estate if a person dies intestate or without a will. Inheritance laws vary from state to state, but usually start with a surviving spouse and children, moves to parents, grandparents and siblings, and then goes to decedent’s parents, grandparents, and siblings. If no relatives can be located, then the Estate escheats, or reverts to the State Government.
Probate Attorneys need to have a variety of skills to be effective. They not only need legal skills but they also have to be effective investigators capable of finding assets and heirs.
If you have the need of an experienced attorney with both investigative and legal skills please contact me and we can discuss a consultation.