What Happens if a Beneficiary Can’t Be Found?

09 June 2021

If you are the executor or administrator of an estate, you have a duty to make sure all the money in the estate is distributed to the right people.

If there's a Will, one or more executors should be named in this. If there isn't a Will, then the next of kin will be appointed as the administrator instead. When someone dies without a Will, this is called Intestacy.

Missing beneficiaries

Anyone who is entitled to inherit money from the estate is called a beneficiary. If any of the beneficiaries can't be found, then the executor or administrator's job can become more challenging. This sometimes happens if a beneficiary had lost touch with the person who died and cannot be traced.

If a beneficiary doesn't receive what they're entitled to from the estate, the executor or administrator may be liable to pay this themselves. To help protect against any possible claims, the executor or administrator needs to take all the necessary steps to find the beneficiary before distributing the estate.

What to do if a beneficiary can't be found

If a beneficiary can't be found, the first step is to ask the deceased’s friends and relatives if they know where the beneficiary might be. It may also be worth instructing a genealogist company to help locate the missing beneficiary (this can be paid for out of the estate).

You should also take out advertisements in a newspaper close to their last known residence (known as S27 notices). S27 Notices give any potential creditor or beneficiary two months to make a claim on the estate. Whilst they don't totally eliminate the risk of a claim, they do give some protection.

If this fails, these are the other options available:

  • Hold back the of the money that the missing beneficiary is entitled to, so if they ever get in touch this can be paid to them. This can be the most practical solution for smaller estates and will mean the payments to the other beneficiaries aren't held up.
  • Distribute the funds to the known beneficiaries, and get a written agreement from each of them confirming that if the missing beneficiary ever comes forward they will return their share of the money. This is done with an indemnity policy. Be very careful if you choose to do this because the beneficiaries could have spent all their inheritance by the time a claim is made and be unable to pay it back.
  • Distribute the estate and take out an insurance policy, which will pay out if the missing beneficiary is traced. If you instruct Co-op Legal Services probate specialists to deal with the estate, we can arrange this through our specialist provider.
  • Apply for a court order known as a Benjamin Order. The court will make the order on the presumption that the missing beneficiary has died. If the beneficiary comes forward later, they can still try to claim their share of the estate from the other beneficiaries, but the executor or administrator is protected by the Benjamin Order. This is, however, a very expensive and time-consuming process.

Whatever you choose to do, it’s very important to take specialist advice to ensure that you, as the executor or administrator of the estate, are protected and that you do not become personally liable.

With our Probate Complete Service we take full responsibility for getting the Grant of Probate and dealing with the Legal, Tax (excluding VAT), Property and Estate Administration affairs.

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