Estate trustees and executors have a duty to locate the beneficiaries of estates; however, it isn’t always a straightforward task. This post will examine three things that should be considered when tracking down a named beneficiary in a will.
1. Gather as much information as you can prior to conducting the search.
When examining the deceased records, you will of course look for address books, phone number listings (access to their mobile phone might be useful if available), and correspondence that might help you locate a beneficiary; however, don’t overlook less obscure resources such as family trees, birth dates, previous addresses, family lore, photographs, and the beneficiary’s career history.
When going through records online or in archives, you are often trying to distinguish between several people with the same name. On several occasions, it was the family lore and other relationships, that allowed us to distinguish the person we were looking for from all the rest.
It is our practice to interview the executor or trustee at the outset of the engagement to understand these things. If that is not practicable, we’ll ask their agent to obtain as much of the information as possible.
2. Yes, social media, but not only social media.
You’re not going to believe this, but not everyone has a social media account! Pouring through records on Instagram and Facebook can be useful, but it can also be totally ineffective if the hard-to-find beneficiary doesn’t participate on those platforms.
The answer might reveal itself in directories, public records, archives, ancestry databases, or news media. There is also plain old fashion calling or visiting people who might know the missing beneficiary who may be discovered through crawling through the local paper where we think the beneficiary resides.
Prior to making any calls, the rules of engagement should be determined in advance prior to making contact, which leads us to our next point.
3. Think about the rules of engagement when contacting possible references for a named beneficiary in a will, including mental health considerations of the parties involved.
The situation you are dealing with could be straightforward or it could be complex. The privacy considerations of the deceased, their family, the other beneficiaries, and the missing beneficiary themselves are all considerations.
If there is ongoing litigation or other unsettled matters with the estate then those factors must be considered when determining whether to make contact with people who may know the location of the beneficiary, or indeed the beneficiary themselves. If contact is made, then consideration should be given to how the contact is made (letter, call, email, social media message, etc.) and by whom.
When a beneficiary is located it can be an occasion filled with mixed emotions. The beneficiary is receiving a bequest from an estate, and it can be an opportunity for people to reconnect with family and friends they have lost touch with. On the other hand, someone has passed away which can generate significant feelings of grief.
In other cases we have dealt with, there can be an element of mental illness that plays a factor in the beneficiary’s distance from the deceased. The mental illness might result from trauma, addiction, or underlying mental health condition. In those cases, it is always a good idea to consider whether mental health supports should be engaged for the parties involved when approaching a beneficiary who has distanced themselves from the family.
If you are a legal or financial professional involved in the administration of estates and would like to know more about how we have helped locate beneficiaries, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-233-8509 x 100.