Think you know your family history? Think again!

By Vivienne Pennington

I enjoy Family history research and am an avid fan of the TV programme Heir Hunters, which follows firms of probate researchers as they track down the relatives of deceased intestate individuals. Even so, I’d never imagined that I’d get a visit from an heir hunter because as far as I knew I didn’t have any rich relatives, but I was wrong. Eventually I received a four-figure sum and a more complete family tree than I had been able to research for myself.

One day, as I was preparing to go on holiday, a relative rang me unexpectedly to tell me a probate genealogy company, Finders UK, had been in touch about a matter to do with one of our relations. I didn’t pay that much attention as I was preoccupied with my packing and my first thought was that Finders had contacted my relative just for genealogical information. During the long journey to our holiday destination I had time to reflect and it occurred to me that Finders could themselves be a firm of heir hunters tracing beneficiaries and I could potentially be a missing heir.

I rang my daughter, who checked out Finders on the Internet, and she confirmed that yes, they were a company of international probate genealogists.  This was exciting news and I wished I’d paid more attention to my relative’s telephone call.

The base for our holiday wasn’t far from where my relative lived, so we paid her a visit, she showed me the information that she’d received from Finders and told me that she’d given them my details as another potential beneficiary.

I telephoned Finders and they said they’d send me an information pack which explained the inheritance process and what Finders do, as well as a form I needed to sign to authorise them to act on my behalf. This I completed and returned to Finders with my birth and marriage certificates, to confirm that I was who they thought.

Genealogy is one of my hobbies so I was able to give the Finders researchers a more detailed family history. My father had married twice, so I gave them the names of my half-sister’s descendants and other close family members who could be potential beneficiaries.  The Finders researchers were very grateful for the information, which they told me was a great help in confirming their own research.

I contacted my relatives to tell them of the possible windfall, and it took some persuasion on my part to make one of them realise it was genuine. He thought the whole thing was a scam, but after he had telephoned Finders himself his scepticism dissipated and he was pleased to discover that he was also a potential beneficiary.

Heir Hunting companies is a competitive business, but Finders informed me that the deceased relative was a first cousin to my deceased father.  Therefore my father’s share of the estate came to me and my half-nephews. Unlike many people in my situation, I did know of the existence of the deceased as he was on the family tree that I had put together. He had been one of two children neither of whom had married and his brother had predeceased him but, until Finders contacted me, I’d had no idea that he had died intestate, or that I might be a beneficiary of his estate.

Not much happened until Finders wrote to inform me their research was complete and they had submitted a report to a firm of solicitors. Finders then sent me a copy of the family tree and when it arrived I was delighted. Even though the printout was 12 foot long, because my great-grandparents had thirteen children, it had no joins and was very professional.

The deceased had lived in a care home and I assumed that much of his estate would have been taken up in fees but really I had no idea how large an estate he had left. After I saw the complete family tree, and counted forty potential beneficiaries on the maternal side, I thought I’d be lucky if I got £100. There was the paternal side to take into consideration as well and I didn’t know how many beneficiaries there were on that line.

The proceedings were delayed because the original administrator (one of the beneficiaries) had dropped out and another had to be appointed, so months went by with no further news and no new information, but finally I received the anticipated cheque and was really surprised to receive a four figure sum.

My experience of the world of probate genealogy, although limited, is a positive one. Finders UK is a very professional company, they did exactly what they said they would and without them I would never have known that I had a beneficial interest in my deceased relative’s estate, let alone been able to claim my rightful inheritance. What I have learnt is that intestacy is complicated and that one is well advised to have a professional firm act on your behalf.

So if an heir hunter calls listen to what they have to say, even if you think you know the full extent of your family tree, you could just be wrong and find that you are a missing heir just as I did.

Names in this article have been changed to protect identities.

For further information and advice contact Finders

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.