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What Happens If My Estate Cannot Locate an Heir?


Here is a hypothetical situation. Judy retired to Florida after living most of her life in New Jersey. Before she left New Jersey, Judy signed a will leaving her entire estate to her sister, Meredith. Unfortunately, after moving to Florida, Judy lost touch with Meredith, although she never changed her will.

After Judy dies, the executor of her estate cannot locate Meredith. She no longer lives at the last address Judy had on file. And even after spending several weeks trying to locate Meredith, the executor is simply at a loss. In fact, the executor cannot even confirm if Meredith herself is still alive.

So what happens to Judy’s estate in this situation? Does the executor have to keep looking indefinitely for Meredith? Or can the probate court in Florida simply direct the executor to give the proceeds from Judy’s estate to someone else?

Dealing with “Unclaimed Property” in Probate

This is how Florida law addresses these types of situations. Section 733.816 of the Florida Statutes contains detailed provisions on how an estate must dispose of “unclaimed property.” This includes situations where an heir or beneficiary cannot be found, as well as cases where the person simply “refuses” to accept an inheritance and there is no readily available alternate beneficiary.

Basically, the probate court will order the personal representative to sell any unclaimed property and deposit the cash proceeds with the clerk of the court. If the total amount involved is no more than $500, the clerk will post a public notice on the courthouse door for 30 days to “put interested persons on notice.” If the amount is greater than $500, the clerk will publish the notice at least once a month for two consecutive months in a local newspaper. If the missing heir shows up to claim the money, the clerk will pay it over to them.

If more than six months goes by and the missing heir still has not claimed their inheritance, then the clerk will turn the money over, less certain expenses, to Florida’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The CFO is then required to keep the money for up to 10 years. If the missing heir still has not shown after a decade, then the CFO will then keep the money and place in Florida’s State School Fund.

How a Florida Probate Attorney Can Help

If you suddenly find yourself administering an estate with a missing heir, it is in your best interests to contact an experienced Fort Myers formal administration lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can assist you in making a diligent search for heirs, as well as advising you of what steps to take next if they cannot be located. Above all, a probate lawyer can help ensure you administer the overall estate in a timely manner that is in accordance with Florida law.

Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our probate team.


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