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Searching for Missing Heirs (Part 1)

There have been a number of stories in the media about an epidemic of loneliness among the elderly. This is in part because families are smaller and more spread out.  From an estate administration perspective, this means that many of these same people are dying alone and without apparent or at least known heirs.

When someone dies without a will, state intestacy laws establish the line of heirs who are entitled to receive estate assets and in what order.  Spouses, children and other direct descendants take first.  When there are no such heirs, more remote family members such as siblings, nieces and nephews and cousins are next in line.

The more remote the family, however, the more difficult it becomes to identify these heirs.     Some of them may have lost touch with the decedent (person who died) and are not even aware of the death.  In some cases, family members may step forward, claiming to be heirs.  But, how can we be sure and even if true, how can we be sure that there aren’t other heirs we don’t know about who haven’t reached out?  Aren’t they entitled to a share the estate? What happens if it turns out that there are no heirs?

Next week I’ll answer these questions.