When a person dies and his estate goes through probate, one of the duties of the executor or administrator of the estate is to notify all of the beneficiaries or heirs of the deceased. When there is a will, any money remaining in the estate after debts and expenses are paid go to the named beneficiaries. But when a person doesn't leave a will, the heirs inherit the remaining assets of the estate. A 2011 revision to the Connecticut Code puts the burden on a missing heir to come forward or risk being considered dead.
Prior to 2011, if there was a missing heir, Connecticut law required the known heirs to file a bond, which would pay the missing heir if he were to appear and claim his share of the estate within five years of the death of the estate owner. The executor or administrator was prohibited from distributing the estate until the bond was posted.
Burden of Proof
The 2011 statute essentially shifted the burden to missing heirs who now must show up in time to claim their share of the assets. In fact, if the missing heir has been absent from his home, is unheard of for a minimum of seven years after the estate owner's death, and doesn't show up for a hearing to approve the disbursement of the estate, the missing heir is legally presumed to have died. In short, the missing heir is out of luck in terms of collecting from the estate if he shows up after the estate is distributed.
Although the executor or administrator has a duty to notify all known heirs about the death of the estate owner, a judge has leeway to determine how far efforts must go in terms of a missing heir. The customary requirement is that the executor or administrator must make a reasonable search. The Probate Practice Book Advisory Committee in Connecticut, comprised of judges and probate attorneys, stated it reached no conclusion as to whether it should have a provision that "explicitly gives judges the discretion to require a petitioner to submit a family tree or a document describing efforts to locate missing heirs."
There are many search firms who look for missing heirs. Sometimes they operate by taking a percentage of the amount a formerly missing heir inherits or are paid by the estate.