The term Laughing Heir taken from the German ‘der lachende Erbe’ refers to heirs whose relationship to the deceased is so distant they suffer no sense of bereavement but are happy to receive an unexpected financial windfall.

Some legal systems have attempted to avoid it by placing limits on the degree of relationship which entitles someone to inherit on an intestate estate. The intestacy laws of England and the Uniform Probate Code of the US restrict the family relationships which entitle relatives to benefit from an intestate estate to grandparents and their descendants. This has, however, not been the case in Scotland.

The law on the order of inheritance on intestacy in Scotland is currently governed by section 2 of the Succession (Scotland) Act 1964. In simple terms this provides that; where an intestate is not survived by any prior relative, the ancestors of the intestate (being remoter than grandparents) generation by generation successively, shall have right to the whole of the intestate estate. This provides no limitation on the relatives who can inherit on intestacy, and thus leaves open the possibility of inheritance by a laughing heir.

Since devolution, where no entitled beneficiaries can be traced, the estate is transferred to the Scottish Consolidation Fund. However anyone who knew the deceased and feels they are ‘deserving’ of a share from the estate is entitled to apply to the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Rembrancer for a discretionary payment.

So if intestacy is complicated in England where tracing heirs can involve extensive research it is even more so in Scotland. That’s why Finders International has a dedicated Scottish office with staff who have specialist knowledge of the Law of Succession and who apart from tracing beneficiaries to intestacies provide a dedicated heir tracing service for the legal profession.