If you or someone you know has been appointed a personal representative of an estate then it is important to realize that Florida law imposes certain duties on a personal representative to act in the best interest of all interested persons. One of those duties includes determining all possible identities and locations of beneficiaries of that estate.
Although a personal representative does not have to prove beneficiaries’ identities beyond all certainty, they must use reasonable diligence to determine the identity and location of those people who may be heirs to an estate.
It is important for a personal representative to keep a detailed record of their methods of investigations, when trying to determine whom is a potential beneficiary or heir of an estate. This detailed record will allow a personal representative to show that they used an effective search method and prove they have fulfilled their duty. While a personal representative has the autonomy to conduct searches in a variety of ways, the following list indicates some preferred and commonly used search tools: government records from agencies such as Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, The Census Bureau, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and various Property Appraisers websites. Other institutional record holders such as courthouses can provide birth certificates, marriage licenses, marriage applications, death certificates, employment records, adoption applications, records of divorce, child support obligations, custody determinations, and various other administrative paperwork. Personal files and miscellaneous records can also be found from other resources that include those documents contained in hospitals and cemeteries, financial records held by banks, such as deeds to houses and automobiles. Furthermore, it may be helpful to confer with insurance companies, credit unions, credit card companies, etc. Finally, a comprehensive search can include internet searches and other records contained by various civic organizations, religious institutions, and various family records such as genealogical records, pictures and family trees.
Once the information has been collected and a personal representative can determine facts such as the city born, the maiden name, or any other information, they can use this to widen their search to others who could potentially be heirs to an estate.
As can be expected, a search for potential beneficiaries can often be exhaustive and time consuming as much information is needed. However, under Florida law, a personal representative has the duty to act expeditiously and to effectuate this purpose, A personal representative usually can act without a court order or any direction. In an attempt to find out who may be a beneficiary or heir, a personal representative may generally hire a private investigator without the court’s permission, provided that the cost to do so is not unusually great. A court will generally treat the costs incurred by hiring an investigator as those necessary in order to conduct a good faith search.
If you or someone you know has been appointed as a personal representative, it is important that you hire an experienced attorney so that they can help you to determine your rights and duties.