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What happens if I can’t locate an heir to an estate?

Superior Client Service

In my practice, there have been an increasing number of cases where a personal representative cannot locate a family member or other beneficiary who has been provided for in a Will. When I draft estate planning documents for my clients, I emphasize the need to include phone numbers and addresses in their will documents, especially if a client is making a gift or bequest to a non-family member. Although phone numbers and addresses may change over time, any information which the personal representative can use to locate individuals is always helpful to prevent missing heirs. The risk if a missing heir is even greater without a will, as unintended beneficiaries of your estate could now be an heir to your estate and locating them could be a challenge.

Regardless of good planning, sometimes people lose touch, documents do not get timely revised, and a beneficiary goes missing. Fla. Stat. §733.816 provides guidance to the personal representative regarding their responsibilities. According to this statute, the personal representative should seek a court order to sell the property and place the funds belonging to the missing heir in the depository with the clerk of court and retain a receipt. Depending on the amount placed in the depository, the clerk of court will then publish a notice either on the courthouse door or in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. If no one claims the funds within six (6) months of publication, the funds are deposited with the Florida Chief Financial Officer and placed in the State School Fund. Within ten (10) years of funds being deposited with the Florida Chief Financial Officer, a beneficiary may petition for the money to be released to them. After that period of time, the funds will belong to the State of Florida.

Therefore, unless you want your estate to be donated to the State of Florida to be used for educational purposes, make sure to keep your heir’s contact information and estate planning documents updated. If you have no will, the State of Florida will determine how your estate will be distributed and if someone is missing, you could be an unintended donor to the State School Fund. If you are a personal representative and think you might have a problem locating a beneficiary, be sure to contact an attorney who specialized in probate administration in order to address this issue.

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