The Ethics of Probate Research: Balancing Family, Money and Respect for the Deceased

Probate research, the bulk of our work here at Finders International, involves tracing the rightful heirs or beneficiaries to a deceased person’s estate. While probate research is legal, there are ethical considerations that arise when handling sensitive personal information and dealing with potential beneficiaries.

Some of the key ethical principles that guide our probate research include:

Respect for privacy—probate researchers must respect the privacy of the deceased and their family members. This means not using any information obtained during the research process for any other purpose than tracing the beneficiaries.

Heir Hunters

Some of the cases we work are filmed for the BBC One daytime TV show Heir Hunters (we’re one of the lead firms featured on the programme). We never put forward any case for filming without the explicit permission of the families involved.

Transparency—probate researchers must be transparent when dealing with potential heirs and beneficiaries. We provide clear information about our role, the nature of our research, and any fees or commissions that we charge.

Fairness—probate researchers must ensure that they treat all potential heirs and beneficiaries fairly and impartially. We do not favour one beneficiary over another or exploit their position for personal gain.

Professionalism—probate researchers should conduct themselves in a professional manner and adhere to ethical and legal standards. They should avoid engaging in any behaviour that could bring the profession into disrepute.

Here at Finders International, we are fully committed to a code of ethics and professional standards as members of the International Association of Professional Probate Researchers (IAPPR) which provides voluntary regulation across a global network of firms with the aim of promoting professional and ethical standards.

Confidentiality—probate researchers must maintain the confidentiality of any information they gather during the research process. They should not disclose this information to any third party without the consent of the affected parties or as required by law.

Ethical conduct

It is in our best interests to ensure our work is conducted ethically and in the best interests of all the parties involved.

Empathy and compassion are other important aspects to the job. Mark Warner, one of representatives who works in the Worcestershire area and head trainer for our new reps, regularly meets potential beneficiaries to estates.

He says: “I do feel it is vitally important to undertake all visits with complete professionalism and to establish an empathy with those we meet.

Links to the deceased

“It is essential that I and other representatives, are well-prepared for our visits and able to give as much information as is possible at that time; regarding the circumstances and the link the person has to the deceased.

“When advising others, I say, always be compassionate, be open and honest and of course approachable. Giving people plenty of time is also often appreciated, especially if the potential heirs are elderly, as they often like to recall their memories of the relative of whom we are informing them of has died.

“I never underestimate the emotional impact my visit may have, particularly on those potential beneficiaries who may not know of the deceased but ultimately gain financially from the estate.”