TV heir hunters told a spinster’s distant relatives they had been left her £270,000 Colchester estate.

But an investigation, shown on a BBC programme, revealed the woman instead wanted her estate to go elsewhere and has led to the dead woman’s wishes being fulfilled seven years later.

The Heir Hunters show focused on a search to find the next of kin of Maureen Gallagher who died in March 2011. The 90-year-old never married or had children.

So when she died, her estate from her home in Worthington Way was published on the Bona Vacantia list.

The programme followed the investigation by probate genealogist Finders International to find potential heirs to the unexpected windfall.

It eventually led viewers to Maureen’s cousin once removed, Christopher Gallagher, as one of 26 heirs who had never met their relative.

But the end of the programme revealed the search later took a bizarre twist.

A valid will was then found in Maureen’s home with family members not inheriting anything.

Instead the estate divided amongst five Catholic churches around the country.

Colchester’s Goody Burrett solicitors were executors.

Solicitor Helen Firth said: “What was interesting for me and really spurred me on was she had specific funeral wishes in her will.

“She was a devout Catholic. “It was really bothering me about what happened to her.

“I spoke to the hospital morgue who put me in touch with the funeral home who collected her all those years ago.

“They looked in their records and put me in touch with the Colchester Crematorium Cemetery. I found out she had a pauper’s funeral. As she had no family, it was paid for by the Government.

“When I found out I just thought that was so awful, that was the end of her, and she had such specific funeral wishes.”

Mrs Firth has since carried out Maureen’s wishes – locating the plot where she was buried and using money from her estate to install a new headstone with words she wanted.

The Catholic churches have agreed to a Mass in Maureen’s memory as she had wanted a full Catholic funeral.

Other items left to them included a Lady of Light statue and portraits.

Mrs Firth added: “I feel really content now she has been able to have her wishes fulfilled after all these years.”

Heir Hunters showed how Maureen’s Irish roots initially caused problems for investigators who finally established this was a listing error and she was born in North London.

Maureen’s father was one of seven children and the team traced 26 cousins once removed who, they believed, were heirs.

Before the will was recovered, would-be heir Christopher Gallagher from Leeds told the programme: “It isn’t about the money. It’s more about finding out about the family and Maureen’s relatives.”

First World War items which had belonged to Maureen’s father Charles, were left by her for the Royal Engineers Museum.

These included a menu card and matchbox cover presented to him on Christmas Day.

Danny Curran of investigators Finders International said: “Finding a will is, of course, a disappointment to the potential heirs, however we are pleased Maureen’s true wishes were carried out. Her estate was dealt with exactly how she wanted it.

“For her relatives, each beneficiary received a copy of the family tree, and it appears this resulted in reunions among relatives.”

This article has been first published in Braintree and Witham Times.

 

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