What happens if the Executors cannot find a Beneficiary of an Estate?
Posted on 12th February 2020
If you are dealing with your loved one’s estate, either as the Executor appointed under their Will or as their closest (or one of their closest) blood relations if they did not leave a Will, you have a duty – as the Personal Representative (PR) – to make sure that all their estate is dealt with correctly, including paying any liabilities, paying Inheritance Tax and distributing their estate.
Unfortunately, and our solicitors have come across this more than you can imagine, if you have never heard of the beneficiaries, or you have never had contact with them, it can be difficult to deal with the estate properly.
However, it’s important to understand that, as PR, if you do not pay their share to the ‘missing’ person, you could be liable to repay them from your own money. To make sure you are protected from any possible claims, you need to make sure you have followed all the necessary steps to try and trace the beneficiary.
What to do if a Beneficiary is missing
One of the first things our team of probate solicitors in Preston would suggest is to talk to the loved one’s friends and relatives, or the other named beneficiaries if there is a Will, to try and find out where the ‘missing’ person could be. If this does not lead to finding them, you can take our advertisements in the newspapers closest to their last known residence. These are known as section 27 notices. S27 Notices gave a set time period (2 months) for any beneficiary or creditor or potential creditor to make a claim. Unfortunately, this does not fully prevent any further claims, they do offer some protection to the PR against the claim personally.
If this does not yield any results, depending on the size of the estate, you may decide to instruct a genealogist company to help locate the missing beneficiary. These funds could be deducted from the estate.
If this step doesn’t give you any results, you could distribute the estate, and save the ‘missing’ person’s share to one side, so that, should you ever hear from them, he or she could be paid their share. This is often more practical for smaller estates, and can help to avoid the other beneficiaries not receiving their share at the first possible moment.
Another, more commonly used, option is for you to distribute the whole estate to the beneficiaries, and obtain written indemnities from them confirming that they will pay back the missing beneficiaries share, equally, if he or she ever comes forward. You will need to remember, however, that if this is the route you decide to take, if the beneficiaries have spent the money, they may be unable to pay you back. Alternatively, you may decide to instruct your probate solicitors in Lancaster to obtain an insurance policy on your behalf, which would pay out if the ‘missing’ beneficiary is traced in the future.
A further route available to the PR, is to apply to the Court for an Order known as a ‘Benjamin Order’. Named after the case in which the Order was derived, a Benjamin Order is a direction by the Court, in the form of an Order, whereby the PR can pay the estate out to the known beneficiaries, by specifying that the ‘missing’ beneficiary is treated as having ‘pre-deceased’ the deceased. On the other hand, the Court may order that the share is set to one side. It is generally decided on a case-by-case basis.
Whatever route you decide to take, it’s always best to seek legal advice first. You can contact our team of Probate solicitors in Lancaster on 01524 581 306 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re closer to our probate solicitors in Preston, contact your local office, here, or pop in and chat to our team face-to-face.
MG Legal – Your Local Solicitors
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