One important aspect of probate is identifying and locating the heirs the will names or, if no will exists, the heirs by Texas law. However, what happens when the executor or estate administrator cannot locate the legal heirs of an estate going through probate. It happens in families more often than many realize.
A sibling may leave home looking for opportunities, following a dangerous path in life or simply choosing to distance himself or herself from the rest of the family. When a parent dies, locating that estranged family member is a critical step to take before the distribution of the estate’s assets can occur. Some steps an executor might take include the following:
- Gathering as much information about the heir as possible, such as birthplace and date, Social Security number, and last known address
- Doing simple searches of the heir’s name online using several major search engines, checking online newspaper articles and other websites
- Using websites that provide free searches for people, such as Yahoo People Search
- Inputting the heir’s name and location into social media searches like Facebook and LinkedIn
- Contacting the heir’s old friends, co-workers or others who may have information about the heir’s whereabouts
- Enlisting the services of a private investigator or other professional
The court requires executors to do due diligence in searching for a missing heir. If the heir cannot be located, his or her share of the inheritance is usually placed in a trust so the estate can be closed. After a certain amount of time has passed, heirs of the missing heir may claim the assets. When this does not happen, those assets typically become the property of the state.