and Your Family
Manhattan Heir Finder
When you pass away, your property such as your home, jewelry, vehicles, artwork, collectibles, investments and bank accounts will be distributed to your beneficiaries or heirs. Using a will you can set forth who you would like to receive your property and what property you would like each person to receive. If you pass away without making a valid last will and testament, then your property will be transferred to your heirs according to New York's laws of intestate succession. In some instances the estate distribution process becomes difficult because one or more beneficiaries or heirs cannot be located. This can cause a delay in closing the estate and make the job of your estate's executor or administrator more challenging. If you are concerned about locating a missing beneficiary or heir, consider contacting an experienced Manhattan Heir Finder Lawyer to help you locate the missing heir so that all beneficiaries and heirs receive what is due to them and to ensure that the decedent's final wishes are fulfilled.
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When someone passes away before that person's property can be transferred to beneficiaries or heirs, the estate must first go through a process that is referred to as probate. If the person did not leave a will, the process is call estate administration. It involves having a fiduciary called the executor or the estate administrator take several steps to wind up your estate, and ultimately distributing your assets. The entire process is overseen by a judge in the New York Surrogate's Court.
Before asset distribution can take place, the executor or estate administrator must first collect your assets and have them appraised. The next step is to pay all of your estate's debts including your funeral expenses, unpaid bills such as credit card bills and utility bills, valid claims against your estate, fees related to administering your estate and taxes. Once this is done, then the fiduciary has a good idea as to the value of your estate. This is essential as it is the only way to know what is available to distribute to beneficiaries or heirs.
The fiduciary will then file an accounting with the Surrogate's Court judge detailing all of the payments made from the estate along with any money paid into the estate. The judge will then close the estate and give the fiduciary permission to distribute the estate's assets.
The distribution part of the process should be straightforward. Part of the administration process is for each beneficiary, heir, or other interested party to be sent a notice that the decedent's estate is in the process of being settled. If someone cannot be found it is part of the job of the executor or the estate administrator to make a reasonable effort to find that person.Searching for a Missing Heir
There are many reasons that an heir may be difficult to find. The missing heir may have become estranged from the decedent and other members of the decedent's family because of a disagreement. If that is the case, the missing heir may resist any effort to be found by the executor or administrator. It is also possible that over time the decedent and the missing heir simply drifted apart. This often happens as people age and their lives take different paths. A person may be difficult to be found because they have aged or suffered health problems that have caused them to become physically or mentally incapacitated to the extent that they have to rely on another person to handle their affairs. In still other cases, unfortunately, the missing heir may have passed away without the decedent being notified. Under New York law after 3 years and a diligent search a missing person is presumed to have died. NY EPTL § 2-1.7.
Regardless of the reason that the heir went missing, your executor should take advantage of the many resources that are available for finding people. In most cases an heir is not truly lost or missing. In such cases very little effort is involved in locating that heir. In other cases it may be a lot more difficult to find the heir. However, using resources such as the internet, publishing notices in newspapers, reviewing public records, searching genealogical databases, and contacting the Social Security Administration may provide clues as to the whereabouts of the missing heir.Consequences of Not Finding a Missing Heir
If someone cannot be found, the property could end up going to the missing person's heirs, the decedent's beneficiaries, or the State of New York.
Heir's Heirs. In the case of the estate of a person who did not leave a will, if an heir cannot be found, then that person's inheritance may go to his or her heirs based on New York's intestate succession rules. NY EPTL § 4-1.1. New York intestacy laws are very detailed and specific as to who can be considered an heir. Only spouses and blood relatives are identified as possible heirs. If, for example, you are survived by your spouse, but have no children, your spouse will receive your entire estate. If you are survived by both your spouse and your children, then your spouse will receive the first $50,000 of your estate and the balance will be divided between your spouse and your children, with your spouse receiving 50% and the children sharing the other 50%. Your children will share in 100% of your estate if you do not have a surviving spouse. There are also provisions for when parents, siblings, grandparents and other blood relatives will share in an estate. NY EPTL § 4-1.1
Beneficiary's Heirs. If a missing beneficiary named in a will is determined to have passed away, then that person's bequest may end up going to his or her children.
Residuary Estate. In the case of a missing or deceased beneficiary, it is also possible for the property to revert to the decedent's residuary estate.
Escheat. The worst case scenario would be that if an heir cannot be located and there are no statutory heirs available, the property will escheat to the state. Another result that you did not intend.Avoiding a Missing Heir Problem
Make a will. Making a will is a good way to avoid the problems associated with a missing heir. When you make a will you are able to set forth who you would like to receive your assets upon your death. Most often testators name close relatives such as a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents or siblings. You can also name close friends, trusted employees or even organizations such as charities, religious institutions or educations institutions. Typically, when you name beneficiaries in a will it is because you have a close relationship with them and you are in touch with them. Thus, when you pass away, there is less likely to be a problem finding them.
If you do not have a will your estate will be distributed to heirs according to the rules of intestate succession. Under these circumstances there is more of a chance that an heir would be difficult to find. This is particularly the case where a testator passes away without leaving a surviving spouse, parents or children. If the only heirs turn out to be distant relatives who you have not been in touch with for quite some time, or who you have never met, then it is more likely that these heirs may be difficult to find.Give the addresses of your beneficiaries to your executor
When you do make your will, it is important that your executor has the contact information for each beneficiary. When the process begins to have your will admitted to probate your executor is required by law to send notices to the beneficiaries mentioned in your will, heirs who were not named in your will, as well as other interested parties. Thus, it is important that your executor maintains updated information for your beneficiaries as well as you statutory heirs, and anyone else considered an interested party including:
- Children- Biological, adopted, adopted out, stepchildren, and children of predeceased children
- Siblings- Whole and half-blood
- Grandparents- Maternal and paternal
- Aunts and Uncles- Children of predeceased aunts and uncles- maternal and paternal
- First cousins once removed- Children of predeceased first cousins-maternal and paternal
Revisit your will each year. Another strategy that will reduce the likelihood of a missing heir problem is to regularly review your will as well as other estate planning documents every few years. This will allow you to actively review the terms of your will, including who you name as your beneficiaries. If a named beneficiary has passed away you can remove that person from your will. If you have lost touch with a beneficiary, or had a falling out with a beneficiary, you can also reconsider leaving that person a gift in your will. By reviewing your will you eliminate beneficiaries that may be difficult to locate after your pass away.
When you revisit your will each year you can also update beneficiary contact information and give this information to your executor.
The process of probate or estate administration can be challenging and can take many unexpected turns. The problem of a missing heir will make the process even more complicated. It will also delay the process, including distributing assets to other beneficiaries or heirs. To help you navigate the process as efficiently as possible and to help you resolve problems that arise, contact the experienced attorneys at Stephen Bilkis & Associates, PLLC. We will help you find missing heirs and also help you address any other problems that arise during the administration of an estate. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your estate plan.