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What do I need to do in Pennsylvania if a beneficiary is missing or can’t be located?

| May 17, 2021 | Estate Administration

The executor of an estate has many responsibilities to fulfill when the testator dies. One of those obligations is filing the will with the probate court. Another is contacting beneficiaries to notify them of the testator’s passing.

There’s often a significant amount of time between when a testator drafts a will and when they pass away. You might try hard to find an heir or other beneficiary but be unable to do so.

What steps should you take when you can’t locate a beneficiary?

You’ll first need to notify any other beneficiaries of the difficulty you’re having in locating someone. Ask them if they have more accurate information about the missing person’s whereabouts.

You should tell them that the court will require you to prove that you did your due diligence to find the beneficiary, which will delay the administration of the case.

The next thing that you’ll need to take is to search for the beneficiary. You may want to take one or more of the following steps to do so:

  • Check social media previously used by the beneficiary to see if you can track them down there.
  • Use search engines to look for leads for them. You may want to check court, obituary and arrest records as some examples.
  • You may also need to try running an advertisement in the newspaper requesting the beneficiary to reach out to you.

It’s possible that you still won’t reach a beneficiary even after pursuing the above-referenced steps. The probate judge presiding over the case may allow you to pursue one of three options if you’ve proven to them that you’re unable to locate a beneficiary:

  • They may have you divide the assets that were left to the missing beneficiary among the other ones.
  • Some jurisdictions allow for the transfer of assets remaining in an estate to an heir of a missing beneficiary.
  • The assets may also end up being escheated, which involves their placement into a state account. Missing beneficiaries can generally stake a claim to their inheritance down the road once this happens.

You may appreciate having an estate planning attorney’s guidance as you determine what steps to take if you encounter a rare instance in which a beneficiary is missing.