An essential part of the duties of an estate’s personal representative is to diligently search, identify and notify all interested parties, such as heirs and beneficiaries, of the probate filing. The personal representative must practice due diligence in locating all heirs and attempting to contact them.
However, in some instances, some heirs can no longer be located despite the personal representative’s efforts. In this situation, what happens in the probate process?
Distribution to known heirs
If, despite reasonable efforts, the personal representative fails to locate some heirs, the court may eventually allow the distribution of the estate assets to known heirs. However, the estate may have to hold funds in reserve for a period in case unknown heirs come forward. The court’s decision will depend on the available facts and circumstances surrounding the situation.
Application of alternative methods and possible delay in probate
If the personal representative cannot find an heir despite reasonable efforts, the probate court may authorize alternative methods such as notice by publication.
The probate process may experience delays as the court may not close the estate until there is reasonable certainty that the personal representative has reasonably searched for and notified all heirs.
Reopening of probate
If an heir is discovered after the estate has been closed, it may be necessary to reopen probate to distribute their share of the estate. In California, a newly discovered heir or beneficiary seeking to reopen probate must file a petition with the original court handling the initial proceedings and provide a valid reason for the request together with relevant evidence or documentation.
Navigating probate complexities with guidance
Probate is complicated and there are several potential complexities, such as missing heirs, that can arise before, during and even after the process. This often necessitates legal guidance to navigate the obligations and protect the interests of all parties involved.