Generally, when someone passes away the
probate process is rather straightforward. The probate court appoints a personal
representative to administer the estate, then he or she pays off the estate’s
debts and taxes and distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
However, not all estates are closed that easily. There’s always the
possibility that one of the heirs is missing and out of touch with the
family. Perhaps the heir was the decedent’s son and they had a falling
out years earlier. Or, perhaps the heir was never one to be “in
touch” with the family and he supposedly took off to Mexico or Canada
to marry a non-U.S. citizen and was never heard from again.
Or, perhaps the heir was suspected of having a substance abuse problem,
and as the “black sheep” of the family, they sort of fell
off the grid. Even if they did have a drug or alcohol problem, the heir
may have received treatment and set their life straight, but never picked
up the phone because they felt too uncomfortable to make the first move.
Regardless of the reasons why an heir is out of contact with a family,
the probate courts still give these missing heirs respect and full consideration.
While the deadlines vary from state to state, the basic procedures for
locating an heir are fairly standard in all states.
Searching for the Missing Heir
If an heir is missing, the personal representative is expected to put effort
into finding him or her, and there are several ways to go about doing
this, such as:
- Conducting an online search by looking for social media accounts, such
as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
- Conducting a Google search of the heir’s name.
- Hiring a qualified private investigator.
- Contacting an “heir finder.”
- Having the Social Security Administration send a letter prepared by an
attorney to the heir’s last known address.
Sometimes the most diligent search fails to turn up the missing heir. When
this happens, the inheritance is placed in a trust for a specific length
of time according to state law.
If the deadline expires and the missing heir still has not been located,
the inheritance would pass to the heir’s next of kin as determined
by Tennessee’s intestate succession laws. If no next of kin exists,
then the inheritance would pass on to the state of Tennessee.
For further information about missing heirs and how the state handles these
cases, I encourage you to
contact my Nashville probate firm to schedule a
free case evaluation.