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What to do when beneficiaries can’t be found

When someone passes away, one of the first tasks is to find all of the beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate. This is not always as straightforward as it seems.

Here we look at how and why beneficiaries cannot be found and what can be done to rectify this issue. We’ll also look at what happens if a beneficiary cannot be found.

Why can beneficiaries not always be found?

There are a number of reasons why a beneficiary may not be found, these include:

Family estrangement

Families can fall out. The beneficiary may have been named in a will but then lost contact with the deceased, moved away or even moved abroad. If none of the other beneficiaries are in contact with the person, then this makes it hard to track them down.

An invalid Will

There are several reasons that a will could be classed as invalid. It may not have been signed, the person might have been pressured into it or the deceased may not have been of sound mind when completing the will. If there is debate about this, then there is the potential for unnamed and rightful heirs to not be included.


When someone dies without a will, this is known as intestacy. This can lead to missing beneficiaries as the estate will then be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, which can include next of kin who weren’t necessarily close to the deceased or had become estranged. 

How can you avoid the problem of missing beneficiaries?

The best way to avoid any issues with beneficiaries is to have an up to date, valid and legal will. Your will should be specific about who the beneficiaries are and where they currently reside, so that they can be identified easily in the event of your death.

Another way to avoid missing beneficiaries is to place gift clauses in the will. For example, “I leave __ to my husband during his lifetime and on his death, my brother”. This helps ensure that if one beneficiary dies, the estate passes to the correct person after that.

How can you identify a missing beneficiary?

When a beneficiary is missing, there are a number of avenues that can be explored to find the beneficiary, these include:

  • Asking friends and family if they know where the person is/where they were last based
  • Electoral roll data
  • Consumer and credit databases
  • Birth, marriage, death, and adoption records
  • Employing a professional genealogist

If a will beneficiary hasn’t been located, it is often best to employ a professional who will likely have access to will records and other pertinent information.

What to do if a beneficiary/beneficiaries cannot be located

If all efforts to locate an heir have been unsuccessful, there are several ways that the will can be distributed:

Inheritance held

The missing beneficiary’s share can be held until such time as the beneficiary is found. This has the disadvantage that the beneficiary may not be found or not until after their own death, which leaves the inheritance in limbo.

Inheritance distributed

The inheritance could be distributed anyway, with a disclaimer signed to say that the proportion of the estate belonging to the missing beneficiary can be returned if the beneficiary is found. At the point that a beneficiary is found, some of the funds may be no longer available, so this is risky.

Rules of intestacy and family tree reconstruction/verification

As previously mentioned, the estate could be simply distributed by the rules of intestacy using a next of kin/family tree structure.

Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance

Insurance can be obtained to protect both the representative and the beneficiary, should any of the above events occur, which may be worth consideration to prevent issues down the line.

Complete Estate Protection are experts in advising and drafting our clients legally binding wills. We can conduct face to face will drafting sessions in our office or in your own home. Please learn more about our services here.

Alternatively, please contact us via email on or call 01642 493101.