What Happens if an Executor Cannot Find a Beneficiary?

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The role of an executor is one that comes with a legal responsibility to ensure that everyone who is entitled to benefit from an estate does so. This can come with challenges; especially if a beneficiary cannot be located.

While this deosn’t happen very often, as the majority of Wills contain close relatives as beneficiaries, people can lose touch over the years or a testator may still want to leave a gift to someone that they have not been in regular contact with. This can mean that the executor has to spend time tracking down the missing beneficiaries to ensure the wishes in the Will can be carried out.

They have a responsibility to do everything possible to find the person. If that is not done, and the beneficiary misses out, then the executor could find themselves having to pay them personally.

The first, and most obvious, way of finding someone is to ask other family members and friends whether they know of their whereabouts or have any contact details. Sometimes an advert in a newspaper can work and of course, it is possible to search social media platforms too. If this doesn’t locate the beneficiary, then a tracing agent can be employed. This will come at a financial cost to the estate though so should only be undertaken where other avenues have been exhausted.

The executor should be aware that the distribution of the estate should not be delayed unnecessarily while locating a missing person. If a person can’t be located despite trying all avenues then it’s important to ensure the right protection is put in place to avoid personal liability should the beneficiary turn up.

These options are:

- A reserve fund where money is held back to pay them.

- An indemnity from beneficiaries - they all agree to pay the money should they re-appear.

- Take out insurance, as some companies will cover the entitlement should the beneficiary be located in the future.

- A court order - the court will give permission that allows the estate to be distributed based on a presumption that the beneficiary will not turn up.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these options and some are more applicable than others. One thing to consider is the value of the inheritance that the beneficiary will receive. The value will determine which option you choose as it needs to be relevant to the protection you put in place.