Daniel Curran highlights the problems caused by incomplete heir research

In Brief

  • Incomplete heir research can result in major headaches if an entitled person surfaces after disruption takes place.
  • Proactive research is essential in order to minimise the risk of potential pitfalls.

Probate practitioners who have been unfortunate enough to experience a claim on an estate from an entitled person will know how much of a problem this can be, especially if the claim surfaces after distribution has already taken place. If no indemnity insurance policy was put in place prior to distribution the consequences could be calamitous.

Finders have found around 50% of cases referred to them with partial or incomplete research contain serious errors or omissions. Often it is more time-consuming and expensive to undo and re-do what has already been done (incorrectly) than it would have been to start from scratch.

The main causes of errors & claims

As time marches on we will no doubt see an increase of births to unmarried couples or single parent families which, from a research point of view, can be almost impossible to detect. The traditional methods of researching a family tree rely on the neat assumptions of marriage followed by children which simply don’t apply anymore.

The internet research resources commonly used in compiling family tree data are notoriously inaccurate and the resultant errors in transcription, if viewed at face value, could easily lead to beneficiaries not being identified or located.

Family mobility is also increasing with time and if your researcher does not have a strong international network further errors or oversights can also easily be made.

A major insurer has revealed that it has simply had to stop issuing policies to some research companies due to the number of claims their work has generated.

Another less frequent problem is the sudden appearance of a will where the case had hitherto been assumed to be intestacy. Otherwise, the practitioner may be working to a will and a more recent one surfaces. These can be major headaches, however, there is such a thing as missing will insurance too.

Minimising the risk of claims

Proactive research is very important and by this I mean talking to the families concerned, in order to uncover all the information known to them about their family, but which may not be recorded properly or accurately on internet databases. As this is usually time-consuming it is perhaps not surprising how often such a relatively simple thing is overlooked, especially where a smaller research company or a “one-man band” is concerned.

Credentials and accreditations and the additional services offered by a probate research company are often designed to minimise any risk of claims and to assist you with compliance issues. Below I have listed some simple things to look for when choosing a probate genealogist:

  • 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 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 worldwide. Remember that a case thought not to require international searches may unexpectedly need this if a family or individual is found to have emigrated and “disappeared”.
  • Research resources—do not rely solely on internet based sources. Finders have a vast array of research resources inhouse 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.

Website: www.findersuk.com

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.