One good reason to execute a will during one's lifetime is that it is usually, but not always,
easier to locate beneficiaries named in a will. This is so because one usually knows ones named
beneficiaries and the survivors are readily available, attending the funeral, and perhaps even
actively involved in winding down the estate. One's beneficiaries may also know each other and
thus have good contact information.
Heirs may be more difficult to locate since one never even ends up knowing who one's heirs
will be. The most onerous and expensive estates we have handled have involved decedents
who left no spouse, no descendants, no parents, and no surviving siblings. When you start
getting into your cousins as your heirs you start getting into different families that may not even
know each other. People may come out of the woodwork. Search firms may get involved. This
situation can truly be a mess, if the decedent did not leave a last will.
In order for an executor or an administrator to prepare an Affidavit of Heirship, the
representative and their attorney must develop a plan to show that they made a reasonable
effort to identify and locate the heirs. Obviously the first step is to determine who, generally, may
be heirs. Then, based on whether heirs are descendants, cousins, descendants of cousins, or
whomever may be the heirs, the attorneys and the representative should set out to attempt to
identify and locate the heirs.
The following list of steps may be useful:
1. The most obvious source of information may be known family members and friends.
2. Next obvious may be the funeral guest list. Heirs may attend the funeral. Others who
attend the funeral may have useful information in tracking down heirs or beneficiaries.
3. The decedent may have information amongst his or her personal items, which have to be
searched for other estate planning documents anyway.
4. Telephone books, telephone information services, and internet search engines can help.
5. If you know the name and have an address, you may send a letter via Certified Mail,
Return Receipt Requested-Please Forward. This will confirm known addresses and may yield
6. Send an inquiry to the current occupant of every known address of a known heir or
beneficiary to determine whether the current occupant knows the address of the heir or
beneficiary you may be seeking or whether they know any information that may be of assistance.
7. Send an inquiry to every school that the heir or beneficiary may have attended.
8. Send an inquiry to any church, social and fraternal order that the heir or beneficiary may
9. Contact professional genealogists to determine whether there are members of that family
who collect genealogical information on the family.
10. Advertise in the local newspaper where the person last resided.
11. Check with the Department of the Census.
12. Send a letter to the lost heir in care of the Social Security Administration Bureau of Data
Processing and Accounts, Baltimore, MD 21235, enclosing a stamped, unaddressed envelope
together with a letter to the Administration stating why the heir is sought, and as much
information about the missing person as possible.
13. Use a professional tracer, such as Tracers Company of America, 513 Madison Avenue,
New York, N.Y. 10022 or a
Anyone taking these steps has