A consultation has been launched by The Law Commission on the “incomplete and uninformative” law relating to financial provision on divorce.

The paper, Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements, looks at how property should be divided on divorce and extends to property that one partner owned before the marriage or that was acquired as a gift or inheritance during the relationship.

Where inheritance is concerned divorce can have an effect both for the heirs of the divorcing couple and those who may have named the divorcing couple as their heirs. You cannot control your estate from the grave but many try to. Parents who may not approve of their child’s marriage choice and may be concerned about the possibility of divorce, go to great lengths to ensure that their estate will only pass to their blood heir and that the divorced partner will not be a beneficiary but if the couple divorce after they have inherited, both will be beneficiaries of the estate.

At the other end of the spectrum divorce means that in an intestacy the former matrimonial partner will not be a beneficiary of the other partners estate. This can be awkward for heir hunters when they have traced a beneficiary who is an heir to the estate of a deceased parent and the other parent is present, but will not themselves be a beneficiary. The heir hunter has, as always, to be sensitive and explain clearly why the former spouse is not an heir while their children are beneficiaries.

There are many twists to the inheritance tree that aren’t related to divorce. Heirs can and often are only remotely related to the deceased. In intestacy cases, especially older cases, heir hunters will build a family tree searching through generations to find an heir, starting with the immediate family and working up through parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and across to many times removed cousins. Having traced someone who they believe may be an heir and have a claim on the estate, the heir hunter can come unstuck when there are complications, such as divorce or adoption, which can mean that a person who on the face of it looked like being a beneficiary is in fact no longer an heir to the estate.

And what happens when a parent re-marries after the death of their spouse, changes their will leaving their estate to the new spouse, the parent then dies and the new spouse then leaves everything to other beneficiaries thus cutting out the children of the original marriage as heirs? The will can be challenged but it is an expensive process and in a recent case although the claimants, who believed they were the rightful heirs, won in court, the legal fees were greater than the amount they inherited!

When heir hunters investigate an intestacy there are always complications and they are experienced at sorting them out, tracing beneficiaries and reuniting heirs with their rightful inheritance, but the individual can protect themselves from these complications by making a will which names their heirs and ensures that those they intended become their beneficiaries. Even with a will in place things can change so when marrying or divorcing it is important to amend any existing will thus ensuring your estate passes to those who you want to benefit and maybe more importantly not pass to someone you do not want to be your heir.

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.

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.