Unfortunately, there isn’t a database that contains all of the personal details relating to an individual, therefore, finding someone can often take a little work
It is often best to begin with local searches, but if unsuccessful, you may need to consider making international checks. Where you start depends on the information you have regarding the individual’s last known whereabouts.
In some instances, you might not even know who a beneficiary is and this can make any searches even more challenging. One option is to arrange for a professional family tree search to be carried out. This will provide you with the missing details on family members, allowing you to identify the named beneficiary. As part of the search you’ll also receive the addresses, making it easy to get in touch once you’ve determined who the beneficiary is.
Some beneficiaries will be easier to find than others, but the following steps can help you to trace them:
- Talk to Family and Friends. Whilst obvious, this can often be overlooked. Older family members or long-standing friends might remember details that others aren’t aware of. Any information is useful.
- Section 27 Notice. A Section 27 (Trustees Act 1925) Notice is purely an advert in a local paper. These should be placed in the newspapers which are local to the last known address of the beneficiary. If the beneficiary no longer lives in the area, the notice may be seen by someone who knows them so it’s a worthwhile exercise even if you suspect they’ve moved on. The Section 27 Notice provides beneficiaries two months to get in touch and make their claim on the estate.
- Professional Searches. A professional beneficiary tracing service can often provide a quick resolution. There are many databases available to such professionals, including the electoral roll, credit reference databases, birth/marriage/death records and consumer databases, to name just a few. This can be a very quick method in tracing a person.
What Happens if all Measures Have Failed? Very occasionally it might prove impossible to trace someone – so what happens then…
If a beneficiary still can’t be found, an executor has a duty to ensure that contact is still possible and that ‘the door remains open.’ To not do so would be to risk a claim being lodged against them personally should the beneficiary appears later.
Executors are responsible for carrying out diligent searches and if they fail to do so, they will be liable to pay the beneficiary their share from their own funds. However, as an Executor there are some steps you can take to help reduce your exposure to such risk:
- Obtaining Indemnities. If the whole of the estate is paid to other beneficiaries, it’s possible to obtain indemnities from them in case a missing claimant turns up. Whilst this provides some protection it’s not entirely bulletproof, especially if they spend their inheritance and have no funds left.
- Insurance Policy. It’s possible to take out a specialist type of insurance policy which protects against the missing beneficiary making a claim against the estate later. The premium is usually a one-off sum and will pay out the beneficiary’s share should they get in contact.
Insurers will want to know that all steps have been taken to find the missing beneficiary. In this instance, a professional search can be useful in documenting the extensive steps which have been carried out.
- Setting Aside a Reserve Fund. Smaller estates may prefer to simply set the money aside in case the beneficiary lodges a claim within the permissible 12-year period. The downside to this is that not all of the estate can be distributed and you will need to administer the separate account until the 12 years have expired.
- Apply for a Benjamin Order. Executors can apply to the court for a Benjamin Order which provides a legal agreement that the beneficiary’s share can be distributed to others. Crucially, it provides protection for the executors from any later claims. This is a more expensive option and the executors need to prove to the court that they have made every effort to trace the beneficiary.