19th FEBRUARY 2021
When someone writes a will, they list out beneficiaries to receive funds, assets, or gifts from their estate. The executor or administrator of the will is responsible for finding these beneficiaries and ensuring that they receive the funds they are entitled to. If you are unable to find one of the beneficiaries while you are handling probate and they are not paid their share of the estate, you could be held financially liable should they ever come forward to claim their funds at a later date. Therefore, it is important that you take precautions to protect yourself.
How to locate the beneficiaries of a will
It should be relatively simple to find the beneficiaries of a will after someone dies; mostly, people name family members or close friends who are involved in their lives up until the end. However, if there is a beneficiary listed in the will who is estranged or hasn’t been heard from recently, your job might be more difficult.
The first thing you should do is ask the deceased’s friends and relatives, and any other beneficiaries, if they are in contact with the lost beneficiary or have any idea where they are currently living. If you are unable to find any contact details, you can also hire a genealogist company to trace the beneficiary using official records. As the executor or administrator, you are never expected to pay out of pocket during the probate process and so you can charge these fees to the estate.
If you are still unable to locate the beneficiary after doing this, you might consider taking out an S27 notice in a newspaper that is close to the beneficiary’s last known location. An S27 notice protects you somewhat against a claim being made at a later date because it gives the lost beneficiary two months to come forward and claim their portion of the estate. Even if you do take out an S27 notice, however, there is a chance that the beneficiary can work around it and make a claim regardless. If the beneficiary is still not found after you have taken the steps outlined in this article, there are still some ways that you can protect yourself from liability in the future.
What to do if the beneficiary still cannot be found
The simplest option is to create an account containing the exact amount that the beneficiary is due and keep it safe until the beneficiary eventually gets in contact. This is recommended if the estate is simple and the amount of money they are owed is fairly small. If you choose to do this, you can go ahead and distribute the remaining funds to the beneficiaries who did come forward so they don’t need to wait for the last beneficiary to come forward.
If you do not want the responsibility of holding onto the money, you can ask each of the other beneficiaries to sign a written agreement that they will hold onto a portion of the lost beneficiary’s share and pay it back to them should they ever come forward. In this case, you would distribute all funds from the estate, including the share of the missing beneficiary, to those beneficiaries who could be located. If you do this, you need to trust that all beneficiaries will hold onto the money and won’t spend it. If the beneficiary comes forward and their claim has been spent by someone else, they can still hold you financially liable.
To fully protect yourself from this situation, you can take out a Benjamin Order. This is a court order made on the assumption that the missing beneficiary has died. With a Benjamin Order, you can continue to distribute the funds and assets of the estate to the other beneficiaries. Then, if the missing beneficiary comes forward and makes a claim at a later date, it is the responsibility of the other beneficiaries to pay out their share of the inheritance and the executor or administrator is protected from financial liability. This is the best option if you want to protect yourself, but it is an expensive process which will significantly prolong probate, which is hugely time-consuming in itself.
If you are unsure of which route you should go down, you might consider hiring a professional solicitor or probate service such as Kwil to help you with your individual situation. Kwil offers a full estate administration service with a fixed-fee cost. We will obtain your grant of probate for you and handle the entire estate administration for you. If there is a missing beneficiary, our friendly legal experts can advise you how best to proceed.