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Losing contact – why finding absent beneficiaries is crucial

Losing contact – why finding absent beneficiaries is crucial

Katherine Marshall, one of our partners in the family team, and Suzanne Leggott, a private client partner, discuss the issues that need to be considered in these cases:

Finding the missing person

The most vital issue is tracking down the person who has gone missing. Contact needs to be made with them, whether that be through social media campaigns, a police investigation, or even a private investigator.

If the person is retired, it is worth looking into whether they are collecting their state pension. Accessing the letter forwarding service offered by the Department for Work and Pensions can help shed light on any previous addresses the person may have had, although individuals can’t access this service; it can only be accessed through certain channels such as by solicitors or charities.

Understanding why the person may have disappeared

If a person goes missing during divorce proceedings, they may have done so to escape what can be a traumatic experience. People’s coping mechanisms vary, and sometimes they are not in the right place to face the issues head on.

It may be the case that the person has a history of mental health concerns, and if so, they may need specialist support throughout proceedings. Safeguarding procedures should be put in place by solicitors if this is the case, so the process can be managed in an appropriate manner, causing as little distress as possible.

Can funds be distributed without the missing person’s permission?

In the event of an estate administration and an absent beneficiary, issues can arise surrounding how the proceeds from the sale of the property are to be distributed. Without contacting the missing person, instructions around distribution cannot be given and can hold up proceedings for all parties.

If this occurs during a divorce, a former spouse may attempt to give away the money, perhaps to charity. This can be worrying for the family of the missing person, as there is still the possibility that they will return and need the money. However, it is unlikely that a former spouse could achieve this, as the process is complex and long-winded.

Seeking appropriate legal advice is of great importance in such a rare situation and to resolve the situation in the best way possible, contacting the missing person is paramount. This gives the individual the option of settling the situation themselves, or appointing someone else to do so.

Find out more information about our family team, or see more about our private client team.