Daniel Curran explains how to recognise a professional probate genealogist & why you need one
In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in family history in the UK. Television shows like the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ or ITV’s ‘Family Reunion’, have inspired amateur genealogists, assisted by a range of websites dedicated to the creation of family trees encouraging us to find our roots.
The legal sphere has correspondingly seen growth in the number of small firms offering probate genealogy or ‘heir hunter’ services. While these can prove a tempting offering to solicitors–– there is a strong case for bringing in the professionals when an estate is at stake.
Compliance and Managing Risk
Risk management has never been more important as illustrated by a recent case where the solicitors were in touch with the Deceased’s sister, who swore that the Deceased’s other sibling died without issue. In this case the solicitors found that the Deceased’s pre-deceased sibling had a son disowned when it became apparent he had serious mental health issues. It is surprising how common the discovery of an equal or prior claim is.
The other key area to minimising risk is obtaining a suitable indemnity insurance policy. The ability of a firm to provide sufficient evidence to an insurer for them to issue a policy for the protection of the administrator/executor and the solicitors acting for them is a vital part of the selection process when choosing a probate genealogist.
A professional firm should be able to obtain missing beneficiary indemnity insurance as standard and be Financial Services Authority registered for this activity. Finders are agents for Aviva and, by way of example, we have been granted permission by Aviva to issue their policies by self approval in the vast majority of cases.
Furthermore, on completion of our Missing Will Service, insurance cover against a will being found at a later date, can also be obtained. This covers not only assumed intestacies, but also against a potentially more recent will being found in the future.
Comfort policies can also insure against unknown beneficiaries coming forward at a later date. Unknown beneficiaries can not always be planned for; for instance illegitimate children, where the father is not named on the birth certificate. If a man, who never married, dies apparently with no issue, and there is no paper record to say otherwise, the search will be concluded and the estate settled. Yet this man could still have an illegitimate child, who could come forward to claim the estate.
Microfiche and ‘Old’ Methods
Another indicator that the firm you are dealing with is experienced and professional is whether they keep microfiche and other library records. Firms or individuals relying on websites can be easily misled by errors, which occur through the transcribing of the original documents into digital records. It is not uncommon for a record to be misspelt or omitted entirely as a consequence of this process which could result in the wrong heir being identified, or entitled heirs being missed completely and the estate being settled incorrectly or left open to future claims.
Most professional probate genealogy firms will frequently check and double-check findings with the original source data as a standard procedure, producing more reliable results and a higher success rate.
Accreditation and Codes of Conduct
The probate genealogy sector is not officially regulated, but there are accreditations that solicitors should look for when selecting a firm. The Association of Professional Genealogists is an international professional body with a code of conduct which many professional firms belong to.
It is also recommended that solicitors check whether the firm has their own internal Code of Conduct to which they can be held accountable. This should be easily available on the firm’s website.
Data Protection registration is also important when private information is being stored and investigated, as are other accreditations, such as ISO 9001:2008 which ensures quality management throughout every level of the firm.
Professional firms will also have a greater depth and breadth of knowledge across the team. Skilled probate genealogists can navigate their way quickly through complex family trees and legal intricacies and areas of knowledge such as overseas research where privacy and probate laws differ.
With the advent of ‘Heir Hunters’ on BBC TV we have seen an inevitable surge in rogue traders who lack the ability, funds and knowledge to complete the searches they are engaged on, and who severely damage the reputation of the sector. E-mail scams are rife. Solicitors looking to track down missing or unknown beneficiaries can gain much from engaging an experienced probate genealogy firm – from a faster, more accurate search, to peace of mind from the insurance policies on offer.
Daniel Curran is Managing Director, of Finders International Probate Genealogists.