Contacted by an heir hunter? What’s next?

What if someone phoned or emailed you, claiming that you might be an heir to an estate? Obviously, the news might fill you with excitement, but most of us are savvy enough to wonder if something sounds too good to be true, it’s likely to be the case.

There are seven actions we recommend you take if you have been contacted by an heir hunter.

Check they are genuine.

There are plenty of instances of inheritance fraud out there where scammers try to get your bank details so that they can empty out your account. First things first, you want to establish if the heir hunter works for a legitimate firm.

Does the website look genuine? Does it have plenty of information on it? Are there credentials and testimonials? Is it being updated regularly and are there phone numbers/email addresses and a registered office address?

Ask plenty of questions.

A genuine heir hunter will not mind your curiosity. Ask how much the estate is worth and how many beneficiaries there might be, as this will have a bearing on how much you inherit. A professional heir hunter will be happy to discuss fees with you too. Many heir hunting firms take a percentage of the estate, which means you do not pay upfront for the service.

Check the bona vacantia list.

Otherwise known as the unclaimed estates list, the Ministry of Justice’s unclaimed estates list is a list of people who have died without leaving a will and with no known next of kin. You can check if the estate the heir hunter mentions is listed here (although it might not necessarily be there).

Don’t rush anything.

You do not need to give the heir hunter a reply immediately. You might want to pursue the claim yourself if you think you have the time and necessary know-how to do so (though bear in mind, you will need certificates and other information to prove your claim). Remember, it takes many years before an estate is passed to the Crown.

Be realistic about what you can expect to receive.

You might be one of a number of beneficiaries, which can reduce your share of the inheritance considerably. There is also the risk that a valid Will might turn up, where the deceased person specifies that their entire estate is given to others or charity.

Think about insurance

Another scenario is where you receive a larger share of the inheritance because other missing beneficiaries cannot be traced at the time but turn up years later. To protect yourself against the latter, we always advise taking out missing beneficiary indemnity insurance for peace of mind.

Report any concerns to trading standards or the IAPPR.

If you are at all worried about the heir hunter who has contacted you, you can contact your local trading standards office or the International Association of Professional Probate Researchers. The IAPPR can only intervene or mediate if the heir hunter/the company the person works for is a member of this voluntary regulatory body. However, they can investigate reports of malpractice and give you advice.