Intestacy can be a complicated business and it is not made any easier when those who are charged with disposing of the Deceased’s property and finding missing heirs to the estate abuse their position for their own gain.

A Leeds woman Deborah Cook has recently been sentenced to 16 months in gaol for theft, fraud and for abusing her position with the council to help her make money from her amateur heir hunting business, Heir Solutions Ltd which she had set up without informing the council or completing a declaration of interest form.

Cook was a finance officer with Leeds City Council and was responsible for preventing loss or theft by seizing documents and valuables of the deceased in cases of intestacy where there was no immediately traceable next of kin. She was then supposed to find family members before passing the details to the Treasury Solicitor.

It was found that she failed to pass information to the Treasury Solicitor and hid documents so that she could work the cases independently to make an additional income by signing beneficiaries to her company for a percentage of their proceeds. It was estimated that she had made up to £160,000 from her misconduct.

But that was not enough for her; she also stole £17,000 using a credit card from a deceased woman.

Another case in which the jury was unable to reach a verdict but which may go to retrial involved an employee of Portsmouth Council who was tried on charges of possession of criminal property and theft.

The defendant who since the allegations were made has been suspended from his job, had worked for the council since the 1970’s, was manager of the administration and liaison team and was responsible for burials and disposals of property for those who die with no known next of kin.

He was accused of possession of criminal property when several valuable items were found in his shed and garage and was alleged to have stolen a candelabra and clock from a retired antiques dealer who actually lived outside his area of responsibility.

With the burgeoning popularity of family history research, professional probate genealogists like London based Finders face competition from amateur heir hunters.

The amateurs believe that they can trace heirs using internet resources, which are notoriously incomplete, but often they unfortunately lack the specialist knowledge or resources to complete the job.

It is therefore essential to use a professional probate genealogy company, like Finders, when searching for missing heirs. Finders do not only trace beneficiaries but offer a range of other services. Finders will conduct a will search to establish whether there is a missing will, or find the most up to date will. 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.

For further information and advice contact Finders, 6-8VestryStreet, London N1 7RE 020 7490 4935

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.