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How Do I Find a Missing Heir in Probate?

How Do I Find a Missing Heir in Probate?

Troy Werner and his family

Written by Troy Werner

Troy Werner has been an indispensable asset to The Werner Law Firm since joining in 2009, providing exceptional legal service to its clients.

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POSTED ON: July 30, 2023

Locating missing heirs after the death of their benefactor can require detective work worthy of Sam Spade.

If someone dies without leaving a will or naming beneficiaries, a probate judge will likely consider the next of kin the heir. Known as intestate succession, this doesn’t prevent family members who aren’t blood relatives from receiving much of the estate. Which raises the question, how do I find a missing heir in probate?

California's intestate succession laws are very particular with regard to not only who inherits, but also as to who is entitled to be mailed a notice of any probate proceedings. Tracking down heirs through private investigators and heirsearch companies will sometimes be necessary. As probate lawyers, we are able to help guide you through that, but it's not always straightforward to find probate heirs. That’s why it’s important to locate family members easily after death.

Next Avenue’s recent article, “Where’s Your Heir?” says that in some states, such as Florida, companies can help with an "heir search." Using the information available to identify the heir, these companies do the due diligence on behalf of the executor or personal representative to locate the heirs and distribute the property according to the (deceased benefactor's) wishes.

Finding someone can require searching a proprietary database or looking at genealogy websites. One company helped find a missing sibling who was homeless and hadn’t been in contact with his family for more than ten years.

In another case, a mother of four children was discovered to be an adoptee only after her death. Further research found that the adoptee's birth mother had purchased Certificates of Deposit in their names.

To support its networks of genealogical researchers, private investigators, and other agents across the country, these companies charge to find missing heirs.

The heir often pays the fee, ranging from 20% to 30% of the full inheritance amount.

Note that legitimate heir hunters will provide their licenses and other credentials when they first make contact. They won't ask potential heirs to pay money before they have their inheritance.

The arrangement should be a contingency where they get paid once the heir has received their inheritance.

With this in mind, when creating a will, an experienced estate planning attorney will have the creator of the will be as specific as possible in naming heirs or recipients of the estate.

It’s crucial to use the full legal name of each heir. Another best practice is to include the heirs' dates of birth on documents, especially when heirs have a common name.

An experienced California probate attorney in Newport Beach can help the executor or administrator move through the process of navigating this and settling the estate.

If you have any probate questions, schedule a free appointment with us through our online appointment page. We would be happy to see how we can help.

You can also read reviews from some of the hundreds of clients we have helped over the years.

Reference: Next Avenue (July 3, 2023) “Where’s Your Heir?”

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