Administration of Estates – identifying the beneficiaries of a Will

This sounds simple and often is, but it depends on the wording of the Will. It is the duty of the Executors to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries in the Will.

The Executors and entitled to ask for identification, as proof of the identity of that person. So the more detail in the Will about the beneficiary, the easier this is to indentify them. People can have secret lives and therefore fiends or family that the Executor did not know about, even if they were close.

Naming the beneficiary with their full name, relationship and address makes life much easier. So “my son Fred Blogs of 21 Acacia Gardens”, makes life much more straightforward, even if Fred moves house or changes his name, he is still probably the only son of the deceased to have once been called Fred Blogs, but he will no doubt have a change of name deed, if he has changed his name.

Generally women change their names more than men, so a marriage and if also necessary degree absolute will show a change of name due to marriage and divorce, but women also use change of name deeds, so this can be used as evidence.

A change of address is not a problem, as they may have paperwork relating to their old address, but in the above clause the easy way to identify the person is by relationship – “my son”.

The problems start to arise when the Will just says “Fred Blogs”, which one did the deceased intend? Is Fred a neighbour, a relative, a close friend or someone he was mentored by? The Executors have to be confident that they have identified the person named in the Will, so if there is not very much information, it is possible that this person will not be found and could therefore lose out on the benefit of the gift. If there is some information, the Executors may want an affidavit of name or relationship as a form of proof that this is the correct person. The Executors can discuss the tracing of a beneficiary with the friends and relatives of the deceased to try to shed some light on exactly who the intended beneficiary is.

So what happens if there is a problem with the spelling of the name? An affidavit would often suffice, but once again, it is down to the Executor being confident that they have correctly identified the person named in the Will.

If a beneficiary cannot be found, then it is possible to either distribute the estate to the known beneficiaries, with a written undertaking from them that they will return the money with interest if the correct person comes forward. It is possible to get insurance for this, just in case the beneficiaries cannot afford to repay the money.

It is a duty of the Executors to trace the beneficiaries, so they must make reasonable efforts to do so before they give up and give the money to someone else with an indemnity. What efforts are reasonable would depend upon the size of the estate.

Many charities will also provide an indemnity for the distribution of an unknown beneficiary, which may be preferable to the Executors than a beneficiary that is highly likely to dissipate the assets.

If a beneficiary cannot be found, then the issue is who is next in line, as they would normally be the ones to receive the gift with an indemnity, as they would be the ones entitled to it. This can be a complex area, so if in doubt, obtain advise.