Missing beneficiary
Missing beneficiary

The following Wills & Probate guidance note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Missing beneficiary
  • Breach of duty
  • Employment of a genealogist
  • The beneficiary still cannot be found
  • Application to the court for directions
  • Court leave to distribute
  • Distribution with an indemnity
  • Insurance
  • Pay the money into court
  • Beneficiaries and heir locators

Breach of duty

A breach of duty may arise where the personal representatives (PRs) distribute an estate without taking into account the existence of a beneficiary of whom they are aware, whether that beneficiary is specifically named or a member of a class of beneficiaries. Section 27 of the Trustee Act 1925 (TA 1925) protects PRs against claims of unknown beneficiaries entitled under the Will or on intestacy. TA 1925, s 27 does not provide protection where the PRs know of a beneficiary but not their whereabouts and omit them from benefiting on distribution.

If a known beneficiary is missing, the PRs should make all reasonable enquiries to establish the beneficiary’s whereabouts:

  1. advertisement in a newspaper circulating in the area in which the beneficiary was last heard of

  2. advertisement in the Law Society Gazette

  3. employment of genealogists or title research agents to trace beneficiaries

  4. employment of a private investigator

Employing genealogists, title research agents or a private investigator can be costly. The PRs should be satisfied that the circumstances of the case and the amounts involved justify such expenditure.

Employment of a genealogist

The PRs may employ a genealogist to trace the beneficiary. The genealogist may work:

  1. to a fixed fee/to an agreed limit at the cost of the estate

  2. on a contingency fee basis, ie they

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