The Florida Bar
American Bar Association
Weston Florida Chamber of Commerce

Inheritance Locating Missing Heirs in the State of Florida

When an estate file is opened, the first thing to be determined is if the deceased left a will or not. Next, it is necessary to locate who his (or her) beneficiaries are.

Was the Decedent married at the time of his (or her) death? Was the Decedent divorced and can a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage be located? Who are the other heirs of the Decedent? Many courts require the preparation of the filing of a Family Tree.

When no will can be found or a will does not exist, the lawyer must act in the capacity of an investigator. Documents need to be thoroughly reviewed to see if assets can be located and specifically bank accounts. These bank accounts may reveal the location of a safety deposit box and the location of a possible will. Medical records also disclose the care of an individual and clues as to the cause of death and which relatives were involved in the care and treatment of the Decedent prior to their death. The death certificate also has vital information concerning cause of death, marital status, date of death and residence.

Photographs and photo albums as well as personal documents can provide valuable clues into a person’s history. These records can be located at the residence of the Decedent or provided by the heirs.

Storage facilities can provide a treasure trove of information and can disclose hidden assets that were known to exist and which the heirs may not have been aware of.

Debts and liabilities and credit card statements provide information regarding creditors who require notice in the Probate process.

Clues lead to more clues and a thorough investigation is critical in determining the true nature and value of an Estate as well as locating all possible heirs.

An attorney ad litem may be appointed by the Court when there are missing heirs who the Court needs to diligently locate. Other attorneys may request the appointment of an attorney ad litem to act in this capacity and who can file a report with the Court which demonstrated that diligent efforts were made and the names and addresses of the heirs who are beneficiaries to the Estate.

An administrator ad litem is appointed by the Court to administer the assets and liabilities of an Estate when there is no one available to do so.

Estate settlement proceedings halt when a will beneficiary is missing. The person managing the estate, typically known as the Executor, is responsible for attempting to find any missing beneficiaries. Each state has different requirements as it relates to diligently searching.

After the Executor, through counsel, have concluded their diligent efforts the Executor is required to provide legal notices to known relatives. Publication of the Estate is required to notify creditors as well as to locate heirs. Different Courts will treat a missing will beneficiary as if he were dead or order the Estate Executor to deposit their share in a Trust Account.

State law controls who receive a person’s estate if a person dies intestate or without a will. Inheritance laws vary from state to state, but usually start with a surviving spouse and children, moves to parents, grandparents and siblings, and then goes to decedent’s parents, grandparents, and siblings. If no relatives can be located, then the Estate escheats, or reverts to the State Government.

Probate Attorneys need to have a variety of skills to be effective. They not only need legal skills but they also have to be effective investigators capable of finding assets and heirs.

If you have the need of an experienced attorney with both investigative and legal skills please contact me and we can discuss a consultation.

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