What is an estate to do when a beneficiary cannot be found. While relatively rare, this does occur and it has been the author’s experience that in the absence of specific instructions in the will, this can lead to significant costs. There are specialized beneficiary hunters and as one can imagine they are not cheap. Such an effort is required before the court will assist.
One remedy is an application to the court for what is commonly known as a “Benjamin” order. The name arises from an almost 120 year old decision from England. However it has been adopted by a number of Canadian Courts and most relevantly in Ontario by the decision in Kapousouzian Estate v. Stink.
In a recent decision by Justice Rady in Steele v. Smith the judge examined the circumstances. Suffice it to say, the court looked at numerous factors including the lengths that the executors had gone toto try and find the missing beneficiary. The effect of a “Benjamin” orderis a declaration that the missing beneficiary had pre-deceased the testator and as such the will would be interpreted through that lens. In the Steele decision it would mean that the remaining beneficiary would receive the missing beneficiaries’ share.
The Public Guardian and Trustee, a Government agency opposed the “Benjamin” order asking that the monies be paid into court while further searches were made for the missing beneficiary. In the Steele decision, the executors were ultimately successful. Primarily, because they had made extensive efforts to find the missing beneficiary.
One alternative to consider is when a will is being drafted to provide the executor with discretion, after reasonable and extensive efforts to locate a missing beneficiary to simply have their bequest or interest in the estate eliminated. The circumstances in which such a clause is warranted would include naming a beneficiary that the testator had long been alienated from.