This weeks feature blog comes from Maurice Clarke, founder of the "Heir Hunters Association" (HHA), whose long term interest in genealogy was piqued when he himself became a beneficiary of such a case.
"In 2002 he inherited a substantial sum from an (unknown) relative whose estate was distributed under the terms of intestacy. The ensuing maternal and paternal family trees became an interesting revelation and at this point Maurice's interest started which lead eventually to the formation of the HHA several years later"
"Prospective, new and fledgling probate detectives form and establish their own beneficiary tracing business, full or part time.
Beneficiaries who have been approached by Heir Hunters and are confused over their rights and the risks involved especially in view of fraudulent emails circulating worldwide.
The general public who wish to seek out potential unclaimed estates in case they are related to the deceased. Each week new cases are posted and some claims remain open for many years, many eventually are paid over to the state under intestacy laws.
Plus the HHA provides ongoing support, knowledge and contacts worldwide with a regular free newsletter".
Unlike traditional genealogy – which traces family lines into the distant past – heir tracing involves seeking living descendant relatives who often have lost touch with their distant kin.
A will or testament serves as a legal instruction as to who should inherit your assets, such as money, property, businesses and personal belongings, after your death.
But it’s not compulsory to make a will. Every year, millions of people worldwide die without a will – called dying intestate – often leaving substantial cash and property estates.
If no kin is traced or comes forward to claim within the statutory claim period, the state inherits the estate – with billions of pounds going into the Treasury’s coffers every year. Claims may be considered up to 30 years later, but interest is only paid on claims that are made within 12 years.
Think about it. Families used to spend their entire lives in a small geographical area, as did their descendants. These days, however, people don’t just move to different parts of the same county or country, but many emigrate abroad to live. Marriage is less common, divorce more frequent and people often live with ‘partners’ without any legal ties.
If couples split, the chances are that they’ll go on to form new relationships with partners who themselves have had previous relationships or marriages. As a result, children within a typical modern family unit may have different parents.
The result: a potential nightmare for anyone trying to trace beneficiaries across the globe to a deceased person’s estate. The role of such people or firms – widely known as “heir hunters” – is to track down and prove the family link with the deceased and thus claim a share of the estate on behalf of their beneficiary client.
However, many beneficiaries are rightly suspicious when first contacted out of the blue by an heir hunter, as they often think it’s some sort of identity scam or fraud. Even once they’ve been convinced of the heir hunter’s credentials, and assuming that the link to the estate is successful, it can take months – sometimes years – to tie up the case.
The eventual amount received depends upon the size and complexity of the estate, as well as the number of beneficiaries. Moreover, further research can sometimes throw up other family members who inherit instead due to their priority within the family tree.
… but there’s also nothing to lose
This risk is borne by the heir hunters, who typically work on a "no win, no fee" basis.
But they may fail to find any beneficiaries to a particular estate or discover that the estate is too small to cover their search costs. It’s also not uncommon for them to solve the case, only to discover that another heir hunter has pipped them to the post and signed up the beneficiary first. In any of these scenarios, it’s the heir hunter who’ll be out of pocket.
Other websites under the HHA (www.hha-uk.com) umbrella include:
http://hha-peopletrace.org.uk/ – an online service that helps people trace just about anyone on a ‘no trace, no fee’ basis.
www.unclaimed-estates.org.uk – regularly updated list of all 14,000+ unclaimed UK estates.
www.hha-research.org.uk – in-house team of professional researchers who trace missing beneficiaries to unclaimed estates and financial assets.
www.hha-bmd.com – an innovative online platform where people with an interest in family history can exchange information.