Survey highlights the increasing number of missing wills

Many people cannot trace a will that they know a deceased relative made, a fact evidenced by recent research that showed that 67% of people in the UK don’t know where their parents’ wills are.

This is not just a frustration for the relatives but can lead to an estate becoming intestate. This can lead to a drawn out process for the entitled beneficiaries to claim their rightful inheritance and the possibility of missing beneficiaries turning up to stake a claim even though they may not have been named as heirs in the original will.

The BBC television programme Heir Hunters, which follows probate genealogists as they investigate intestacies and attempt to trace all the heirs, has drawn impressive viewing figures and provoked questions among the public, particularly from beneficiaries to an intestacy. One question is “what happens if a missing beneficiary appears after distribution?”

There are over 300,000 intestacies in the UK each year, in many cases the heirs to these estates do not even know of the existence of the deceased which is where probate genealogists, or heir hunters, come in. The heir hunters will trace all the beneficiaries to an intestacy and see the process of claiming the estate on their behalf through to distribution to the entitled heirs. Usually that is the end of the matter but in exceptional cases a previously unknown heir will emerge after distribution.

A traditional solution to this problem is to apply to the court for a Benjamin Order but this can be expensive, especially when a small estate is involved, and time consuming. Another possibility is to obtain indemnities from the know beneficiaries agreeing to reimburse the estate should a missing heir appear after distribution but this is an unsatisfactory solution due to the risk of a beneficiary dying or becoming bankrupt. It adds to the difficulty of winding up an estate, due to the need to keep large reserves indefinitely, on the off chance a missing heir may emerge.

There is however a better solution, missing beneficiaries insurance, which covers both the beneficiaries and executor against future claims on the estate from a previously unknown heir. There is consensus in the courts that insurance is a sensible and practical means for resolving claims from missing beneficiaries, the general view being that insurance has the benefit of being both a speedy and effective remedy. The case of Evans v Westcombe [1999] also removed any doubt that a missing beneficiary insurance policy is a reasonable expense of administration and that it is acceptable for this to be borne by the estate of the deceased.

A reputable probate genealogy company, like Finders UK, will carry missing beneficiaries insurance that ensures that the known beneficiaries and administrator are protected in a case where someone with a prior or equal entitlement, a missing heir, who was not traced using standard research comes forward to claim all or part of the estate. Missing beneficiaries insurance therefore allows the administrator to distribute an estate to the entitled beneficiaries with confidence.

Due to the extensive research carried out by heir hunters in their search for beneficiaries to an intestacy, it is rare for an heir to be unidentified. The heir hunters make every attempt to trace all beneficiaries even when there is an international dimension but sometimes an heir cannot be traced. If they later materialise, especially after distribution, there could be complications so if you are a beneficiary to an intestacy make sure missing beneficiaries insurance is in place.

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.