We have discussed previously in this space what the basic rights and responsibilities of a personal representative are during the administration of an estate. We have also touched on the basics of various methods of probate. Normally, the personal representative is responsible for giving notice to, and upon receiving the order from the probate court, distributing the assets left to heirs named in a will document, or entitled to inherit under the intestacy laws. But what happens during estate administration if an heir cannot be found?
According to Florida Statute 733.816, there is a specific procedure a personal representative must follow if a legal heir cannot be located, or the heir is unknown or refuses to accept the inherited property. In such cases, the court will order that the personal representative give the amount of funds intended for the unfound heir, after the liquidation of the specified property, to the clerk of court. The clerk will then attempt to give constructive notice to the heir by publication.
The manner in which this is done depends on the amount of the funds. If the inheritance is less than $500, the clerk will post notice at the door of the courthouse for 30 days. If the amount is $500 or more, notice will be published once a month in a newspaper of general circulation within the county for two months. The notice will contain the amount in question, the contact information of the personal representative and anything else required to put the heir on notice. If no legally entitled individual comes forward with six months of the first publication, the money goes to the state to use in its education fund.
It is important to note that this process is used during formal administration of an estate. If an heir is missing, summary administration generally won't be sufficient. Whether or not all heirs are known and located, in most cases personal representatives can consider contacting an experienced Florida probate attorney for advice.
Source: The Florida Senate, "2012 Florida statutes," accessed August 10, 2015