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View Full Version : Private Investigators-cum-writers - How do you locate a “missing” person?



The Backward OX
07-09-2010, 06:57 AM
At the beginning of one strand of my story, a minor character dies, leaving his house to a major character. No one associated with the deceased person knows where this major character is presently living, so the executor of the estate hires someone to locate her.

My question is, what steps/procedures might a PI undertake to locate a person whose whereabouts are unknown?

Thank you.

Soccer Mom
07-09-2010, 07:43 AM
I'm going to move this to the Story Research forum, but I'll leave a link here.

PeterL
07-09-2010, 04:32 PM
Is this contemporary? Methods for finding people have changed. These days one starts with an internet search and look for associates and documents later, if neessary.

Stanmiller
07-09-2010, 09:58 PM
Sox,

Experian's debtor location service would be a good place to start.
-Stan

mtrenteseau
07-10-2010, 03:07 AM
Property tax records. Someone has been paying the taxes on the land your character inherited. Of course, if it were paid in cash in person each year, meaning the address they have on file could be outdated or fictitious - as long as the mail doesn't get returned, and the tax doesn't get past due, they won't bother to track down the owner's current address.

The Backward OX
07-10-2010, 03:20 AM
Property tax records. Someone has been paying the taxes on the land your character inherited. Of course, if it were paid in cash in person each year, meaning the address they have on file could be outdated or fictitious - as long as the mail doesn't get returned, and the tax doesn't get past due, they won't bother to track down the owner's current address.
Um...my PI needs to locate the character mentioned in the will. I can't quite see how anything to do with some third party paying the taxes is going to help.

jclarkdawe
07-10-2010, 04:47 AM
Starting point for the search would be the will. Any competent attorney will put down something along the lines of "To my friend, John Doe, of Eastwick, AZ, I leave ... " Notice an attorney wants to get in the relationship, the name, and a reasonable geographic location. This gives me a start when this situation arises, and if a client doesn't know where someone lives, then there's another way of setting this up that will make more sense. And it narrows down who shows up for collecting the money.

Okay, person dies and we can't find John Doe. Let's say the will is twenty years old and John Doe doesn't respond when a letter is sent to him. Now the first question is how much of an heir is John. You're not going to spend a whole lot for someone receiving the stuffed bass on the guy's wall.

Probably the next step would be to hire a private investigator in John Doe's town. PI would start with a records check (marriage, birth, death, voter, driving license, professional licenses, dog license, registry of deeds) and see what shakes out. If nothing, you go to the neighborhood and find the little old ladies who remember twenty years back. Also, advertisements would be taken out.

It's unlikely you won't get some leads (you've now probably spent about $10k). If you get nada, you go in front of the judge. If the bequest is big enough, he/she will authorize further investigation. But reality is if you strike out in the first town, you're probably not going to be successful. Reality is not all people can be found, nor can all found people (or bodies) be identified.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

mtrenteseau
07-10-2010, 07:52 AM
Jim, I think we're looking for the history of the deceased - the beneficiary is the MC.

I can see an executor not being familiar with the deceased if the will was written with an attorney who has retired and/or died and the law firm gave the will to a new member of the firm. The firm should have a file that includes invoices and correspondence, which would indicate when the will was written and where the person was living at the time.

The logical gap I'm having is the fact that someone had to know that the person died and get the death certificate certified in order to execute the estate. There's a scenario I've put together that could leave the deceased somewhat anonymous:


the body was found away from home (hotel room, bus station, empty field)
there was picture ID but it didn't have a home address (military or school ID)
the deceased was carrying a business card from the attorney with a note "in case of emergency please contact."
If the primary residence wasn't specifically disposed of in the will, that would mean that the decedant didn't own her primary residence when the will was written.

The decedant had no family - to avoid legal challenges, family members who are left nothing are still mentioned by name.

Mac H.
07-10-2010, 08:32 AM
Here in Australia I managed to find someone listed in a will using the electoral roll.

These are technically public around here - if you make an appointment and then turn up in person to the State Library you can find the address for any given name.

Other methods I have used successfully for another country was when I knew the general location of the person and their age. Since they were retired I called local community groups that they might have been involved with. It was slow but eventually the local cricket club passed me on to the correct person.

--

However, apart from the electoral roll method it was all very slow and unreliable. The major question is whether the executor is genuinely looking for them with all resources or just going through the motions to cover themselves legally.

To cover themselves legally I would imagine that they would put an ad in the legal section of a national newspaper that isn't googlable or findable online and consider it sufficient. (That's just because I'm a cynic, though) It also seems unreasonable for an executor to spend $50k looking for someone who might not ever be found to deal with a $200k will.

Of course the first place in the modern age would be to simply to a search on Facebook and the internet. Sure it might be unlikely to find the person (perhaps < 5%) but it is extremely cheap and quick so it would almost seem negligent if the executor didn't.

Another issue is the false positives. You find a person in another city with that name who, when told that they might inherit a lot of money if they remember someone, suddenly recalls that it could be that old guy they met sometime. It would be vague enough that you couldn't prosecute if it turned out they were faking (after all, they know a lot of old guys - it isn't their fault if they are wrong about this one) but plausible enough that the executor couldn't dismiss it.

Unless the will is more specific (mentioning exact city or middle name) then any listing of the phone book will find thousands people who it could be. If the will does list the location, then a look of the phonebook for that year would probably find them.

Good luck,

Mac

The Backward OX
07-10-2010, 08:56 AM
Jim, I think we're looking for the history of the deceased - the beneficiary is the MC.

I can see an executor not being familiar with the deceased if the will was written with an attorney who has retired and/or died and the law firm gave the will to a new member of the firm. The firm should have a file that includes invoices and correspondence, which would indicate when the will was written and where the person was living at the time.

The logical gap I'm having is the fact that someone had to know that the person died and get the death certificate certified in order to execute the estate. There's a scenario I've put together that could leave the deceased somewhat anonymous:


the body was found away from home (hotel room, bus station, empty field)
there was picture ID but it didn't have a home address (military or school ID)
the deceased was carrying a business card from the attorney with a note "in case of emergency please contact."
If the primary residence wasn't specifically disposed of in the will, that would mean that the decedant didn't own her primary residence when the will was written.

The decedant had no family - to avoid legal challenges, family members who are left nothing are still mentioned by name.
I have re-worded my original post to make it more clear.

The Backward OX
07-10-2010, 09:07 AM
Jim - Many thanks.

Mac - You've given me heaps of ideas for the story generally, as well as for my specific question. Thanks for all that. I particularly like the cricket club idea.

mtrenteseau
07-12-2010, 06:03 AM
I have re-worded my original post to make it more clear.

OK, that makes much more sense now. :)

(Which means I might someday use the idea of having to determine the history behind someone who died and left one my characters something...)