How to reduce the risk of estate misdistribution


Title ResearchFrom Legal Futures Associate Title Research.

Personal representatives have an enormous weight on their shoulders when administering the estate of a deceased person. All of the legal and financial responsibility falls to the executor or administrator of the estate and it can be extremely complicated if the estate is distributed incorrectly. Personal representatives will often turn to a legal professional to help assist with the estate’s administration and that professional should aim to mitigate the risk of estate misdistribution.

When a Will has been left, the residuary beneficiaries tend to be specifically named so the personal representative is aware of who they need to contact. However, this is not the case when someone dies without a Will as their estate must be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy. This involves correctly identifying statutory next of kin and then locating them.

So how can you reduce the risk of estate misdistribution?

Use a systematic approach to research the family tree

To protect personal representatives from any potential future liability, it is important to ensure that all entitled persons are included and unentitled persons excluded. That is why following a systematic approach to researching a family tree can be beneficial to ensure that the relevant law of succession is followed. At Title Research, we have developed our own best practices to provide complete peace of mind. An example of this is that we will not look at the grandparents, uncles and aunts until the prior class of half-blood siblings has been proved to be empty.

Do not just take the family’s word for it

Often families believe that they know exactly who should be benefiting from the estate at hand but they may not be aware of the rules of intestacy or they may unknowingly be unaware of the correct structure and composition of the family. A family may accidentally withhold information if they do not realise it is of significance, such as the issue of a predeceased entitled next of kin. The rules of intestacy are very generous both in England and Wales, and in Scotland and sometimes family testimony alone can’t be relied upon.

We therefore recommend not making any assumptions and taking a critical view of all the information. Documenting all events of birth, marriage, death or adoption is vital, and not just a formality as it proves the blood relationship. It additionally differentiates between whole and half blood kin as whole blood relatives take precedence over half blood relations in England.

Protect against future claims on the estate

It’s important to do everything you can to reduce the risk of estate misdistribution but genealogy is not an exact science, and it is almost impossible to prevent a previously unknown kin emerging and making a claim against the estate in the future. For example, how can you be sure that none of the men in the entire family tree has illegitimate children who may alter how the estate should have been distributed? Due to the way in which such births are customarily registered and indexed, such children do not often emerge during the course of an average investigation and the rest of the family may not know of their existence.

The best way to protect against future claims on the estate is for estate administrators to advise the personal representative(s) to take out a missing beneficiary indemnity insurance policy as a precaution. We recommend taking out insurance even when there are no known or even suspected missing beneficiaries as like we have highlighted, you never know who could come forward in the future. 

Title Research provide trusted genealogical research services to legal professionals. The experience we’ve gained over the last 50 years means that we can help with any estate administration challenge. If you need advice on dealing with a complex estate administration case, call 0345 87 27 600 or email info@titleresearch.com.

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