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Are there any rules a personal representative must follow to satisfy themselves as to the identity of a beneficiary particularly if an adult child is illegitimate?

There are no rules nor law as such for these matters as each case will be driven by its own unique facts. It is a matter to discuss with potential personal representatives and to consider in the light of any specific policies laid down by the firm as well as general professional ethics but, ultimately it is down to the personal representative (PR) to determine the procedures to adopt. Guidance may be drawn from the expectations placed on a PR where a beneficiary is missing.

In this instance, section 27 of the Trustee Act 1925 protects personal representatives against claims of unknown beneficiaries entitled under the Will or on intestacy, but it does not provide protection where the PRs know of a beneficiary but not his whereabouts and omit him from benefiting on distribution. Where a known beneficiary cannot be traced the personal representatives have a number of options. Before any of these is contemplated they should make reasonable enquiries to establish the beneficiary’s whereabouts. These may include:

  • advertisement in a newspaper circulating in the area where the beneficiary was last heard of
  • advertisement in the Law Society’s Gazette
  • employment of genealogists or title research agents, and
  • employment of a private investigator

The last two of these can prove to be extremely costly so the PRs should be satisfied that the circumstances of the case and the amounts involved justify such expenditure. However, if a distribution is incorrectly made, there can be consequences.

If you would like a chat to discuss further, please feel free to contact me for a free 30-minute consultation.

Sophie Campbell

01637 800 306

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