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January 4, 2011   Estate Planning

Missing Heir/Beneficiary and How to Find Them

By Michael J. Zwick, Esq.

      Michael Zwick WealthCounselMichael J. Zwick, Esq.
Assets International, L.L.C.








The 2010 census report shows once again how mobile a society we have.  Most people though do not realize the difficulties that such mobility presents to estate planning and administration practitioners.  With so many people moving around the country and even the world, the number of missing heir cases has risen. 

When meeting with a client to plan his estate, you are obviously careful to ask about the beneficiaries.  No matter how diligent you are though, you cannot stop an heir or beneficiary from moving to unknown whereabouts.

What should you do then when your client has died and, you, representing the executor or trustee, do not know where an heir or beneficiary is?  You can try Google, but that will only take you so far.  For example, unless the missing heir has a very unique name, you will have a very hard time finding him or her.  Also, if the missing heir has gone off the proverbial grid, whether because he or she is living on the streets or has moved overseas, the cheap and easy measures will not help much.  There is a lot of truth to that old saying, "You get what you pay for."

You may be a great attorneyMissing Heir but locating people is probably not up your alley.  Just like you wouldn’t get under a hood to assess a decedent’s car collection but would instead refer it to an expert in selling valuable vehicles, it only makes sense to refer a missing heir case to the right heir locator.  A qualified missing heir locator not only has tools that you lack, like access to databases that are much more comprehensive than you would find for free on the Internet, but also has the experience and knowledge necessary for this specialized task. 

When choosing a missing heir locator to work on your case, you must be careful in selecting one that is qualified.  Do not be afraid to ask a locator about his or her qualifications.  Does the locator have a private investigator license, which some states require?  Is the locator a member of the Better Business Bureau or a genealogical society? Those are just some of the questions that you should ask.

Most importantly, what kind of support staff and specific skills does the locator have?  Some locators like to portray themselves as being bigger, more knowledgeable and more able to deal with different countries’ customs and languages than they actually are.  Take a few minutes and really examine a locator’s website and other promotional materials to get an idea of just what skills, experience and languages the staff possesses.  Take even more time and interview the locator.  Do not just rely on the locator telling you what he or she can do.  Instead, ask for what he or she has done in the form of past success stories.  If you need to find a decedent’s long lost brother who was last known to be homeless, you will want a locator who has experience working the streets.  If you're missing heir supposedly moved to a foreign country, make sure that you hire a locator with experience locating in that part of the world.

As a member of WealthCounsel, your role in tending to your clients’ affairs, both before and after their deaths is taken seriously.  Missing heir and beneficiary cases happen though, no matter how diligent you are.  You can make sure though that your clients’ estates and trust go through proper administration if you utilize the right resources.

Please share your thoughts about this topic in the comment section below.

Editor Notes:

Why Most Families Lose Their Wealth by the Third Generation
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