Missing beneficiaries

How to find missing beneficiaries to ensure they receive their rightful inheritance

Jun 14, 2022 10:48:00 AM

Why is it important to locate missing beneficiaries?

In estate administration, there are a number of different scenarios where you may need to search for missing or unknown beneficiaries. For example:

  • You may be presented with a Will where the Testator has named a beneficiary that is unknown to the family.

  • You could need to find someone that relatives and friends have lost touch with.

  • You might be dealing with an intestate estate where a family tree has been reconstructed or verified, but there is an entitled heir whose whereabouts is unknown.

  • You could be administering an estate where there is no Will and no known next of kin.

In all these scenarios, you’ll need to trace the missing or unknown people. This can slow down the administration of an estate, as it’s likely to take a substantial amount of time and effort. Additionally, it can be difficult to work out where to look and focus your efforts. That’s why this blog post explores how to overcome the challenge of locating missing or unknown heirs in estate administration.

Tracing missing or unknown beneficiaries

The nature of family relationships is often complex, as people lose touch and divisions occur. Today, family dynamics are more complex than ever before due to rises in blended families, multiple marriages, adoption both in and out of families, and cohabiting couples. All these factors contribute to making the search for missing or unknown beneficiaries more complicated. So, where do you start?

If it is believed that the individual has died intestate, it is best practice to verify this through a Will search. If the beneficiaries are identified under the rules of intestacy and it is later found that a Will exists and contradicts this distribution, the estate could be at risk of claims against it. Once it is established whether there is a Will and whether beneficiaries are missing, research into locating them can begin.

Firstly, you should take practical steps to see if the beneficiary can be located through straightforward and traditional methods. You should speak to family and friends to see if they can provide you with any useful information. Additionally, you should follow any leads you may have, such as previous addresses. It’s important to remember that if you find someone at this stage, you should verify that they are the correct person.

Click here to read our blog on mitigating risk on intestacy.

How does a professional genealogist conduct their research into missing beneficiaries?

If these steps fail, then we advise seeking professional help. A specialist who has experience in searching for missing people is likely to locate the individual much quicker than you could yourself.  By passing the search over to a professional at this early stage, you can save a significant amount of your valuable time.

Genealogical researchers will use multiple approaches to locate a missing beneficiary, including searching:

  • electoral roll data (both current and historic);

  • consumer databases;

  • credit reference databases;

  • birth, marriage, and death records; and

  • other genealogical datasets.

An experienced and well-resourced genealogy firm, like Title Research, will have access to various records and know where to look to resolve even the most challenging cases.

If you require assistance locating the documents needed to confirm and locate beneficiaries, we also have a Document Search service. This includes certificates of birth, death, adoption, marriage, civil partnership, Wills, Grants of Probate, and Decree Absolutes. Learn more about our Document Search service here.

Is there a time limit to find a missing beneficiary?

There is no time limit within which you must locate a beneficiary; they will remain entitled regardless of how much time has passed. However, there are set time limits for when they can claim interest on their inheritance. There is a 12-year limitation period that applies to beneficiaries that are named in a Will or under the rules of intestacy. This is why it’s essential to carry out thorough research into finding any missing beneficiaries and take precautions if they cannot be located. If someone wishes to make a claim on an estate that they are not due to inherit on but believe they should be, the time limit is 6 months from the Grant of Representation being issued.

Despite these time limits, it is important to begin work on locating beneficiaries as soon as possible. The quicker a missing beneficiary can be identified and found, the sooner the estate can be distributed without further delays or claims. However, cover is available if a beneficiary cannot be found within a timely manner or if they cannot be located at all.

What to do if a missing beneficiary can’t be located

In some rare cases, a missing beneficiary may not be found even with the help of a professional researcher. If this challenge occurs, it’s important to protect the estate from future risk as they could reappear with a claim for their rightful inheritance after the date of distribution. Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance can offer a resolution in these cases and protect the estate from future risk. There are two types of Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance – known risk and comfort cover – so you can choose the policy that best fits the estate you are administering. Known risk protects beneficiaries and Personal Representatives against missing heirs that have been confirmed but cannot be located. Comfort cover provides protection against any undiscovered beneficiaries that may claim on an estate after distribution.

Before a policy can be underwritten, insurers will require a genealogist's report that shows that sufficient attempts have been made to locate the missing or unknown heir. At Title Research, we conduct our research with insurance in mind, so our methodologies are accepted by specialist insurers. There has been a surge in the number of amateur genealogists in the UK; therefore, it’s important to check that your chosen genealogist produces detailed reports that are accepted by insurers. Learn more about the pitfalls of amateur genealogy here.

Click here to read our blog on Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance.

Case study: The man in a cave

A Solicitor client had asked Title Research to locate a legatee who had lost contact with the family. The family thought that he may have moved to a village in Spain, so our local researcher visited the village only to discover that he was living in a cave in the mountains. Fortunately, he regularly collected post from the local Post Office when buying other provisions, which led to us being able to contact him.


Title Research is an expert in genealogical research with an excellent success rate for locating missing beneficiaries. If you would like to discuss how Title Research can help you find missing beneficiaries during estate administration, call our specialist team on 0345 87 27 600 or fill in the form below.


Topics: Genealogical research, Estate administration, Missing person, Missing Beneficiaries