Sadly, this isn’t always the case when it comes to those working in the field of probate genealogy. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of firms working in this area, which means we often get asked – “what do I do if I’m approached by an heir hunting firm and is this as good as it sounds?”
We have four fee options for the work that we do to trace missing heirs and beneficiaries, locate the next of kin and find missing wills – contingency, estate/trust agreement, budget and fixed fee – all of which are independently checked and approved and you will be given the choice of which option you prefer.
Contingency fees work like this. One of the ways we at Finders seek out work is to keep an eye on the Bona Vacantia list. This term means “vacant goods” and it is the name given to ownerless property, which by law will pass to the Crown if the rightful beneficiaries can not be traced. By keeping ourselves familiarised with this list, we know about unclaimed estates.
When a person dies with no known next of kin, a lot of the time there is no-one who can authorise tracing agents such as ourselves to seek out missing beneficiaries. We have two options – we can do nothing and let the estate lie unclaimed (and eventually resort to the Crown), or we can decide to fund the investigation from our own resources in the hope that we will be able to find the missing heirs and distribute the estate to the rightful owners.
Professional probate genealogy work takes thorough research and therefore time, so funding our own investigations is no small matter and we do this in anticipation of making our money back through our percentage fee from the estate, should we trace the beneficiaries. We do not get that percentage if the rightful heirs can’t be traced, so we must weigh up the risks and write off some of our investments.
If we believe that you are a potential beneficiary to an estate that we are working on, we will contact you with an agreement which we will ask you to read, sign and return to us. This agreement specifies our commission. If you have any questions about the commission, you are welcome to contact us or seek out independent advice.
If your claim to an estate is unsuccessful, you will not pay us any money at all and please be reassured that you will never be in a position where you inherit a debt.
We believe the contingency fees are the most popular with clients because they are only charged if the heirs are found and when the estate is distributed (i.e. probate genealogist firms and heirs receive the money at the same time) and the percentage limit can be set in advance – there are no hidden charges. The percentage can also be renegotiated, should new factors come to light during our research.
Estate/trust agreement is where the research is carried out at no charge to the estate or your firm and a percentage fee is agreed with the executor, administrator, trustee or personal representative in advance. This is a good solution for estates where modest sums are at stake and if no heirs are found, there is no fee.
Our budget option is good for a minimal estate value and also for where steady, progressive research is preferred, usually into specific branches of the family tree. We work to an agreed budget limit and we report on our progress/conclusion according to this budget. If the research is more extensive than anticipated, then a further budget may be necessary.
A fixed fee is paid by the general estate. The client determines the research goal – either to trace heirs or to prove a negative to the advantage of the existing heirs – a fee is agreed which is only payable if the goal is achieved. This can work in both testate and intestate situations and it can save money if the research expands beyond initial expectations.
We hope this has given you a good understanding of our fees and the way that we work. We also provide information packs and no-obligation quotes so please do not hesitate to contact us if you need further information.