An International approach to tracing beneficiaries

Intestacy cases are often complicated. The deceased may have outlived all his or her siblings and have no children, therefore no obvious heirs. They may have been born abroad. They may have half blood siblings. Of course there are plenty of Internet resources, which can help with a simple search, but they are notoriously incomplete and inaccurate and in most cases their help for an heir hunter is limited. In many cases the search leads to an international dimension throwing up further complexity.

With increased mobility families have become more internationally widespread, how many people living in London can trace their roots abroad and how many people living in, for example, Canada or Australia have links back to the UK? Tracing beneficiaries abroad has specific problems for the heir hunter, depending on the territory.

The majority of European countries do not have a central register of births, marriages and deaths, heir hunters having to go to the local authority, be that the town hall or court, to conduct searches for potential heirs. In France for example there are 181 courts on top of the 96 districts all of which keep records that may have to be searched.

In other countries records may have been damaged or destroyed. The Indian archives are located below ground level; they have been affected by flooding and are under attack from pests. During the Second World War most of the archives in Poland were destroyed. With large populations of those who can trace their roots to the sub-continent or Poland this causes a particular problem for the UK heir hunter when trying to trace their heirs who could still be in those countries.

Another problem is a common surname, just think of how many Jones’s there are in South Wales? Add in the international dimension and the problem becomes even worse. In China more than 90% of the population have one of 50 common surnames. In Colombia a child has two surnames, the first being the second part of their mothers surname followed by the second part of their fathers. Their children therefore have a different surname and a grandchild could have neither of the original surnames.

Adoption adds a further layer of complexity to the process of locating missing beneficiaries. Before legal adoption was introduced in 1927 those raised by parents other than their own biological parents were not formally adopted. Therefore if they die intestate their heirs will be the blood family not those who raised them. They may have had no knowledge or contact with their birth family creating a puzzle that can be solved, but only by diligent and painstaking research by the heir hunter.

Probate solicitors have an ethical and professional responsibility to trace all the heirs to an estate so when they need to locate missing heirs, or the beneficiaries to an intestacy, they appoint a firm of international probate genealogists, often nicknamed heir hunters, like Finders, who have the experience, expertise and resources to handle complex cases and the international network to trace beneficiaries abroad.

Finders have bespoke databases providing access to both UK and overseas birth, marriage and death records that are unavailable to the amateur, this along with Finders international network has helped to resolve many complicated international cases tracing beneficiaries whose names have changed and who have migrated to different countries, reuniting those heirs with their rightful inheritance.

Finders have been awarded the ISO 9001:2008 Total Quality Management certification and are the first probate genealogy firm to achieve the international version of this Standard as devised by the IAB (International Accreditation Board). Finders also provide missing beneficiary insurance which protects trustees and administrators against the event of an unknown beneficiary emerging after an estate has been distributed. As agents for Aviva they are regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

For further information and advice contact Finders, 6-8 Vestry Street, London N1 7RE 020 7490 4935.

Daniel Curran
Written by Daniel Curran
Daniel is a prominent figure in the UK Heir Hunting industry. He is from Isleworth in West London and has lived in London for most of his life. He has been in the probate genealogy profession since 1990. He formed Finders in 1997 after 7 years at another firm.