What Happens When a Beneficiary Goes Missing?

What Happens When a Beneficiary Goes Missing?

One of the more challenging aspects of Estate Administration involves dealing with beneficiaries. A critical task in administering an estate is locating the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will, and notifying them of his or her death and subsequent probate proceedings. But what happens when a beneficiary goes missing? The Estate Attorneys at Promise Law address this question.

Beneficiaries and Estate Administration

“A beneficiary is a person (or entity) who is designated to receive the benefits of property owned by someone else. Beneficiaries often receive these benefits as part of an inheritance.”

It is the responsibility of the executor of an estate, also known as the Estate Administrator, to identify and notify all beneficiaries of a deceased person’s estate of subsequent probate proceedings. A beneficiary can be any person or entity chosen by the decedent, such as:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Church
  • University
  • Charitable Organization

There are two types of beneficiaries:

  1. A Primary Beneficiary is the decedent’s first choice to receive assets. If there are more than one, the assets will be divided among them according to the instructions within the will.
  2. A Contingent Beneficiary can be named in the will to receive assets if one of the primary beneficiaries is deceased, cannot be located, or is otherwise unable or unwilling to receive them. More than one contingent beneficiary can be named.

Locating Beneficiaries

The Estate Administrator is expected to exercise all due diligence in locating the beneficiaries listed in the will. These are commonly known, but in some cases, they may be traveling, on an overseas deployment, or even be unknown and their whereabouts in question. In these cases, the executor can exercise several options to locate them, including:

  • Placing ads in local newspapers
  • Contacting other family and friends of the deceased or the beneficiary
  • Searching any known addresses and property records
  • Contacting any past employers or landlords
  • Searching online for records or social media accounts
  • Hiring an investigator

Some state laws may even define what are considered reasonable steps to locate missing beneficiaries and when an executor has satisfied their obligation to locate them. This may also be left up to the court to decide. Moreover, an Estate Administrator may need to obtain permission from the court to use estate funds in locating the missing beneficiary.

What Happens When a Beneficiary Cannot Be Located?

Virginia Code 64.2-2300 concerns the presumption of death from absence or disappearance, when applicable. This law establishes that any Virginia resident who has been absent from the state and their location or condition being unknown for a period of seven years may be considered legally dead, and any assets they are due as a beneficiary can be redistributed to other contingent beneficiaries. But even this seemingly clear-cut rule can be hard to establish because it is hard to prove a negative.

When the executor of the estate has satisfied the law and/or court’s expectations for attempting to locate the missing beneficiary, the probate process may proceed without them.

If there are no instructions in the will for how to distribute the missing beneficiary’s share of the assets, an executor typically will need to seek the advice of the court for distributing the remaining assets.

Contact Us for Estate Administration Assistance

The Virginia Estate Attorneys at Promise Law in Newport News can help with thorny issues in estate administration matters like locating beneficiaries, distributing assets, and more. We offer a free Probate & Administration Workshop that’s available on demand. Plus, you can receive a complimentary consultation if you need more guidance.

Contact Promise Law today by phone or online for more information or assistance. We are ready to help!


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