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When the whereabouts of an heir to a will are unknown

Sometimes, when someone dies, it isn't the will that's hard to locate -- it's one of the heirs named in that will.

Wills often get written down and virtually forgotten. In the time between their creation and the testator's death, however, someone named in the will as an heir can move away and lose contact with the family for any number of reasons.

If you're the executor of the will, what do you do next?

First, you have the unhappy task of letting the other heirs know that the estate can't be settled until the missing heir is either located or the court feels that you've completed a search with all due diligence -- essentially taking all the reasonable steps that you can take in order to try to find the missing heir.

Second, you have to begin your search. Exactly what steps you'll need to take may vary according to the situation, but there are some basics to consider:

-- Run an advertisement in any local newspapers, asking the heir to contact you.

-- Contact the heir's family and known friends to see if you can find out more information about where he or she might be living.

-- Make use of social media and search for any accounts being used by the missing heir. An estimated 79 percent of Americans who are online are also registered on Facebook alone, but you need to remember to check as many other sites as possible.

-- Use internet search engines, like Google or Bing, to see if you can locate new information. You may also be able to make use of online access to public records that way. For example, courthouse records could lead you to an address if the heir has ever had a traffic ticket, been sued or been arrested.

This is by no means an exhaustive list -- although it may be somewhat exhausting to contemplate the amount of work involved in trying to locate a missing heir. You may want to consider hiring a professional to help -- an attorney who is familiar with wills and estate administration has likely encountered this issue before and may know exactly what needs to be done to satisfy the court. For more information on how our firm may be able to help you, please visit our page.

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Larmore Scarlett LLP

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