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Estate and probate administration complicated by lost heir

In many cases, after a loved one dies, probate goes smoothly and assets are distributed to designated heirs within a few months. However, what happens during estate and probate administration when an heir cannot be located? Since the executor of an estate must make every reasonable effort to find and inform all heirs of their inheritances, losing track of an heir may mean long delays in the closing of an estate.

Family members may be able to contact other heirs, and social media certainly makes it easier to stay in touch, even when families no longer live in Michigan. Because of this, it may not be necessary to hire a professional to track down the lost heir. Such search firms can cost the estate greatly, up to 40 percent in some cases. This expense may reduce the share for other heirs, or it may be negotiated to come from the missing heir's inheritance.

If probate is complete except for the location of one heir, the court may approve a preliminary distribution of assets to the rest of the beneficiaries. When all efforts to locate the missing heir have been exhausted to no avail, the estate executor may file a request for the court to have the lost heir's portion distributed to the remaining heirs. Another option is to release the missing heir's portion to the state of Michigan to hold for the heir so the estate can be closed.

Families facing complications during estate and probate administration may find it helpful to seek legal guidance. An estate planning attorney can assist in making the probate process as expedient as possible. Relying on experienced legal counsel has provided many families with peace of mind during an otherwise stressful and emotional time.

Source: montereyherald.com, "The case of the missing heir", Liza Horvath, Sept. 2, 2017

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