Where's Waldo?
March 1, 2010 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Waldo is named as an inheritor in Billy's will. But no one has any contact information for Waldo. What happens?

I know you are not Billy's lawyer.

Thanks everyone!
posted by ryecatcher to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The thing you want to read about is called escheat.
posted by Partial Law at 8:13 PM on March 1, 2010

I suspect a PI would be hired and a trust set up for the eventuality that Waldo is located. Depends on the country's laws, I suppose, however. IANAL.
posted by axiom at 8:14 PM on March 1, 2010

It depends on the state, but escheat is pretty unlikely unless no one else can take under either Billy's will or intestate succession. Most states try pretty hard to make sure property goes to some individual rather than the state, even if it goes to an extremely distant relative.
posted by jedicus at 8:18 PM on March 1, 2010

What state?
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:21 PM on March 1, 2010

Pennsylvania .
posted by ryecatcher at 8:23 PM on March 1, 2010

Indeed, I spoke a little quickly. A better way to phrase my earlier comment is that escheat is a concept with potential impact on the question you're asking and worth reading about. But honestly, probate is one of the areas of law that really varies a lot from state to state, so no one but a lawyer qualified to practice in Billy's jurisdiction will really be able to give you a solid answer.
posted by Partial Law at 8:24 PM on March 1, 2010

I did read about escheat earlier, Partial Law. But it didn't seem to answer my question exactly. How long would the state wait for Waldo to emerge before taking the estate?
posted by ryecatcher at 8:25 PM on March 1, 2010

Not a lawyer. In my experience, probate court insisted on publication of an ad seeking information about Waldo. After a set # of days elapsed with no contact, the inherited property reverted to the others named in the estate. (I mean, it was a '94 Geo Tracker whose hood had flown off the week before, but whatever.)
posted by liketitanic at 9:05 PM on March 1, 2010

To expand upon my earlier points:

So normally a will has what's called a residuary clause that says something to the effect of "whatever's left goes to X." If Waldo can't be found after a reasonable amount of time then either he'll be treated as deceased for the purposes of probate or it will be construed that he disclaimed his share under the will. The end result is that his share will fall into the residue and X will take it.

Now, of course, what if X and Waldo are the same person? Well, in most states if there's leftover property it gets inherited according to the laws of intestate succession (i.e. the way it would if there had been no will). In Pennsylvania the intestate succession order is basically thus (source; I'd link to a more authoritative source but Pennsylvania outsources its online statutes to WestLaw and you can't link directly to a code section there as far as I can tell):

First, to the surviving spouse, then

The share of the estate, if any, to which the surviving spouse is not entitled, and the entire estate if there is no surviving spouse, shall pass in the following order:
(1) Issue.--To the issue of the decedent.
(2) Parents.--If no issue survives the decedent, then to the parents or parent of the decedent.
(3) Brothers, sisters, or their issue.--If no parent survives the decedent, then to the issue of each of the decedent's parents.
(4) Grandparents.--If no issue of either of the decedent's parents but at least one grandparent survives the decedent, then half to the paternal grandparents or grandparent, or if both are dead, to the children of each of them and the children of the deceased children of each of them, and half to the maternal grandparents or grandparent, or if both are dead to the children of each of them and the children of the deceased children of each of them. If both of the paternal grandparents or both of the maternal grandparents are dead leaving no child or grandchild to survive the decedent, the half which would have passed to them or to their children and grandchildren shall be added to the half passing to the grandparents or grandparent or to their children and grandchildren on the other side.
(5) Uncles, aunts and their children, and grandchildren.--If no grandparent survives the decedent, then to the uncles and aunts and the children and grandchildren of deceased uncles and aunts of the decedent as provided in section 2104(1) (relating to taking in different degrees).
(6) Commonwealth.--In default of all persons hereinbefore described, then to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

So as you can see that even in the case that Billy's residuary clause fails for some reason that he would also have to leave virtually no living relatives in order for the state to take Waldo's share. It's much more likely that either the residuary clause will pick it up or some relative will.
posted by jedicus at 9:11 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Practically speaking, someone will just consult lexis or some other public records directory and Waldo will be located, or his heirs will be. Escheat or execution of a residual clause rarely, if ever, happens when there is an actual will.
posted by 2legit2quit at 12:16 AM on March 2, 2010

Not a legal answer, but if I were the executor I would at least attempt to find Waldo on zabasearch, assuming the bare minimum of a name and one-time state of residence for Waldo. This would be the first step, or the equivalent, to what a PI would start with as well.
posted by zippy at 1:26 AM on March 2, 2010

Depending on the amount of money involved, a private investigator ("skip tracer") might be hired to track him down.
posted by megatherium at 3:38 AM on March 2, 2010

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