What happens if a beneficiary of a Will cannot be found?

If you are the executor or administrator of an estate, you must ensure all the money in the estate is distributed to the right people.

If there is a Will, one or more executors should be named. If there is no Will, the next of kin will be appointed as the administrator instead. When someone dies without a Will, this is called Intestacy.

Missing beneficiaries of a Will

Anyone entitled to inherit money from the estate is called a beneficiary. If any of the beneficiaries cannot be found, then the executor or administrator’s job can become more challenging.

This sometimes happens if a beneficiary has lost touch with the deceased person and cannot be traced.

If a beneficiary does not receive what they are entitled to from the estate, the executor or administrator may be liable to pay this.

To help protect against claims, the executor or administrator must take all the necessary steps to find the beneficiary before distributing the estate.

What to do if a beneficiary of a will can’t be found

If a beneficiary cannot be found, the first step is to ask the deceased’s friends and relatives if they know where the beneficiary might be.

It may also be worth instructing a genealogist company to help locate the missing heir (this can be paid out of the estate).

It would help if you also took out advertisements in a newspaper close to their last known residence (known as S27 notices). S27 Notices give any potential creditor or beneficiary two months to claim the estate. 

Whilst they do not eliminate the risk of a claim, they give some protection.

If this fails, these are the other options available:

  • Hold back the money the missing beneficiary is entitled to, so if they ever get in touch, this can be paid to them. This can be the most practical solution for smaller estates and will mean the payments to the other beneficiaries are not held up.
  • Distribute the funds to the known beneficiaries and get a written agreement from each of them confirming that if the missing beneficiary ever comes forward, they will return their share of the money. This is done with an indemnity policy. Be careful if you choose this because the beneficiaries could have spent all their inheritance by the time a claim is made and could not pay it back.
  • Distribute the estate and take out an insurance policy, which will pay out if the missing beneficiary is traced. If you instruct Co-op Legal Services probate specialists to deal with the estate, we can arrange this through our specialist provider.
  • Apply for a court order known as a Benjamin Order. The court will make the order on the presumption that the missing beneficiary has died. If the beneficiary comes forward later, they can still try to claim their share of the estate from the other beneficiaries, but the Benjamin Order protects the executor or administrator. This is, however, an expensive and time-consuming process.

Whatever you choose, it’s especially important to take specialist advice to ensure that you, as the executor or administrator of the estate, are protected and that you do not become personally liable.