How to Locate Missing Heirs and Beneficiaries in California
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Normally, family members can identify and locate heirs and beneficiaries to a deceased California resident’s estate. Other times, extra efforts need to be taken to locate these persons so that they can be provided notice of their right to inherit or otherwise participate in the proceeding.
California Law When a Person Dies Intestate
When a person dies without a will (intestate), California law clearly outlines who inherits the probate assets. For example, if there is both a surviving spouse and children, the spouse inherits all the community property, and one-half (1/2) of the deceased’s separate property if there is one child and one-third (1/3) of the deceased’s separate property if there is more than one child. California law outlines distribution of estates for every family situation, with the State of California to receive the assets in the event no next of kin can be located.
If an Heir or Beneficiary Cannot Be Found, the Administrator Must Exercise Due Diligence
Sometimes, whether or not the deceased died intestate, it is difficult to locate one of the heirs or beneficiaries. The Administrator must exercise due diligence in searching for them; courts are very reluctant to close probate unless every effort has been made. Here are some of the steps an Administrator may take:
- Ask friends and family of the deceased.
- Advertise in a local newspaper for several consecutive weeks.
- Write to last known addresses.
- Search online.
- Search real and personal property index in the assessor’s office in the counties where the heir resided.
- Hire a private investigator.
Options if the Heir Cannot Be Found
- Hand over the amount due to the missing heir to the County Controller, or
- Ask the probate court to declare that the missing heir is dead, if that person has been missing for five (5) years. See Probate Code section 12400-12408. In that case, their portion can be probated and the assets go to such person’s heirs or beneficiaries.
Don’t Risk Part of the Estate Going to the State of California
If you are the Administrator of an estate for which an heir or beneficiary cannot be located, get legal help, or the estate may be held open for a long time without distribution. There is also the risk that part of the estate will end up going to the State of California. Don’t take that chance. For further information or to schedule an appointment with one of the probate attorneys in Los Angeles, contact the Keystone Law Group, P.C. at 310.444.9060 or visit www.Keystone-Law.com