Daniel Curran gives you the inside view of incomplete search records.

Heir hunters, who have not taken out indemnity insurance before located heirs have received the distributed estate, know how problematic it can be when an entitled beneficiary emerges who had not previously been found, despite the heir hunters best attempts to make a complete search and locate all heirs.

Major problems can be caused when a beneficiary who was never traced emerges long after searches have been completed and the estate has been distributed to all the located heirs. This is usually a result of an incomplete search by an heir hunter and failure to trace all heirs. To minimise the risk it is essential when hunting for heirs to take a proactive approach and use all methods to locate and find missing beneficiaries.

Globalisation has resulted in increased family mobility and families have become more dispersed making the job of locating all heirs to an estate increasingly complex. It is therefore important to appoint a research company with a strong global network; otherwise you risk the possibility of failing to locate all potential heirs.

The usual method for locating missing heirs is to first construct a family tree. This relies on the tradition of marriage followed by children. As more people do not get married or have children outside wedlock, this is becoming just the first part of the search and location process. As the search process becomes more complex it is increasingly difficult to find all the heirs to an estate and other solutions for tracing missing beneficiaries must be adopted.

Heir hunters commonly use internet databases when conducting an initial heir search but these resources are incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, and if not used in conjunction with other search methods can easily result in the failure to find and locate all of the beneficiaries.

Around 50% of cases referred to Finders contain serious errors and omissions due to partial or incomplete research. It is often less time-consuming and expensive to start the heir search from scratch than to attempt to locate the heirs by undoing and re-doing what has already been done.

In other cases research to find missing beneficiaries is conducted on an existing will when a more recent will is found, or even worse, work to locate heirs has been carried out when a will emerges where intestacy had previously been assumed. This can mean starting the search again, in an attempt to find different or previously unknown beneficiaries.

To minimise these problems, Finders use proactive search methods. This means talking to beneficiaries to uncover all the known family information. A lot of detailed information that is not obvious from internet search databases can be discovered this way enabling Finders to trace heirs who may otherwise remain unfound. This is a labour intensive process and it is not entirely surprising that it is often overlooked by smaller research companies or single heir hunters.

There is also missing will insurance minimising the risk of claims due to the failure to locate a missing heir. However a major insurer has revealed that is has had to stop issuing policies to some heir hunting companies due to the number of claims their work has generated.

A professional probate research company, like Finders, will assist with compliance issues. They will also offer additional services and carry credentials and accreditation’s which are designed to minimise any risk of claims. Some simple things to look for when choosing a probate genealogist are listed below:

Approved agency status for a major insurance company.

Financial Services Authority registration for all insurance types.

Professional Indemnity Insurance cover up to £1.5m is required by the FCA and should be held by the probate genealogy firm.

Data Protection Registration—security of data is guaranteed by registration.

A Professional Conduct Code—probate genealogy is an unregulated industry and it is good to see self-imposed standards in the absence of formal regulation.

Membership of Association of Professional Genealogists or a similar body such as AGRA, where membership means that the heir tracing company abide by their Code of Ethics.

ISO 9001:2008 Total Quality Management is a useful indicator of a company that is concerned about its professional status.

When intestacy is assumed, have you checked for a will? Finders, for example, offer to search for a will, or to search for a more recent will than the one in use. This service is often free of charge and once completed may enable missing will insurance to be taken out to cover against the risk of a will being found at a later date.

UK research—ensure that research is conducted in-house by fully trained staff in the UK.

Overseas agent network—if research is outside the UK check that your researcher has a network of trusted agents world-wide. Remember that a case thought not to require international searches may unexpectedly need this if a family or individual who has emigrated and “disappeared” needs to be found.

Research resources—do not rely solely on searches of internet based sources. Finders have a vast array of research resources in-house and often has to refer to original records to check for errors or omissions where it is suspected that something is wrongly recorded. Being in London is also important as many major research institutions are only in the capital.

Daniel Curran has over 20 years’ experience as a professional probate genealogist & is founder & MD of Finders.

Daniel Curran
Written by Daniel Curran
Daniel is a leading 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.