Former law society president Kevin Martin has announced an online register for wills that have been prepared by regulated professionals while on another site a will can be created naming all heirs and beneficiaries which will then be checked and authorised by a solicitor.The majority of heirs do not know where to find a parent or relative’s will, if there is one, leading to delays in probate with the associated stress, expense, and uncertainty caused by not knowing if the person who thought they would inherit is actually a beneficiary.

The legal profession in some ways has itself to blame if it has lost business to these new sites. Recently in Scotland a solicitor involved in a probate stole £130,000 from a clients estate, effectively from the clients heirs, of course this is a rare case but over the last few years there has been a shift in emphasis from private client to commercial work and it is speculated that wills and probate may be dropped as a compulsory subject from the legal practice course. With fewer solicitors conducting this work, more people will attempt to ensure that their rightful heirs benefit from their estate by doing it themselves. This again has it’s drawbacks as highlighted by another recent case where a widower tried to disinherit the rightful heirs to his wife’s estate by forging her will to make himself the sole beneficiary.

Much of the work of professional probate genealogy companies, like Finders UK, comes from solicitors who are unable to trace a named beneficiary. For the executors of a DIY, will who are often beneficiaries themselves, the onus will be on them to find any missing heirs. They can attempt to do this themselves but would be well advised to use an heir hunting company who have the expertise and access to specialist databases that the amateur does not posses.

If there is no will then the estate becomes intestate. Unfortunately many people die having lost all connection to their families and without a will. This is where the heir hunters come in researching such cases in their own time and at their own expense in an attempt to locate all the heirs and reunite them with their rightful inheritance.

Many beneficiaries who are contacted by heir hunters had no idea that they may potentially be heirs or even that the deceased existed. This is due to the nature of inheritance and the ‘inheritance tree’. This is simply the way the estate can pass backwards and sideways through a family until an heir is found.

Was the deceased married? No. Did they have children? No. Then the heir hunter will look to see if there are siblings who then may become a beneficiary. There was a sibling but he/she is deceased with no children, then the heir hunter will look for the parents, uncles and aunts and so on until a beneficiary has been located, building up a large family tree in the process. It is this painstaking research that will lead to the location of an heir many times removed from the deceased.

So if the deceased has not made a will with a solicitor or on one of the online services all is not lost. With the help of a reputable probate genealogy company those who expected to become beneficiaries will still be able to claim their rightful inheritance, and those who didn’t expect to inherit or didn’t even know of the deceased’s existence will be pleasantly surprised when they are traced by an heir hunter and find themselves to be heirs to an intestate estate.

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.