There may come a point in time where you are asked to serve as a personal representative of an estate of a loved one. With this privilege comes legal obligations and fiduciary duties. Pursuant to New Jersey statutory law, a personal representative of an estate has a duty to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent in accordance with the terms of the probated and effective will and/or applicable law, as expeditiously and efficiently as is consistent with the best interest of the estate. In addition, the personal representative has a legal obligation to the heirs of the decedent.
In some circumstances, the personal representative is unable to locate a missing or unknown estate heir. An heir is missing when a beneficiary which is named in a will cannot be found or when an intestate heir’s existence is known, but the location is not. In those situations, the personal representative has a duty to use reasonable inquiry to find the heir. If the address of a beneficiary is unknown, or cannot by reasonable inquiry be determined, then a notice of probate of the will shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the decedent died.
While reasonable inquiry is not clearly defined, the following are some steps that may be taken when trying to locate a missing or unknown estate heir:
- Speak with other family members and friends to see if they have any contact information;
- Check social media outlets to see if they have accounts (i.e.; Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.);
- Utilize major search engines (i.e.; Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.);
- Check various databases (i.e.; Probate Records, City Directories, US Census Records, Obituaries, Social Security Death Index, County Sheriff’s department’s records, etc.); and/or
- Consult with a professional (i.e.; a genealogical heir search firm, an heir hunter, a private investigator, etc.).
If you are the administrator or executor of an estate for which an heir cannot be located, our office could assist you in ensuring that you take the required steps and are not breaching any fiduciary duties.