What Happens if a Beneficiary Can’t Be Found?

28 October 2020

If you are the Executor or Administrator of an Estate, you have a duty as the Personal Representative to make sure all of the Estate funds are distributed to the correct people.

If there's a Will, this will appoint one or more Executors. If there isn't a Will then the next of kin will be appointed as the Administrator instead. (This is called Intestacy.)

If any of the beneficiaries can't be found, then this job can become more challenging, especially if the family has lost touch and cannot be traced.

It’s important to understand that if a beneficiary isn't paid what they're entitled to from the Estate, as the Personal Representative, you may be liable to repay them yourself. To help protect yourself against any possible claims, you need to ensure that you have taken all of the necessary steps to find them 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 on the Estate’s behalf.

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 in which to make a claim. Whilst they don't totally eliminate the risk of a claim, they do give some protection to the Personal Representatives.

If this fails, there are a number of options available:

  • Keep a reserve fund equal to the amount the missing beneficiary is due to receive. So if the missing beneficiary ever gets in contact he/she can be paid their share in the future. This can often 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. You will need to be very careful if you choose to do this because the beneficiaries could have spent all of their inheritance by the time a claim is made, and be unable to pay you 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 Probate to deal with the administration of the Estate using our Probate Complete Service, 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. A Benjamin Order allows a Personal Representative to distribute the Estate. If the beneficiary comes forward later on, he/she can still try to claim their share of the Estate from the other beneficiaries, but the Personal Representatives are 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 Personal Representative, 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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