Are heir hunters cheating us out of our inheritance?

by , Senior Money Researcher Money 19 July 2011
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Heir hunters, firms that track down “missing” heirs, may promise an unexpected windfall. But their fees can leave you with far less than you’d otherwise be entitled to. Have you been approached by an heir hunter?

Vintage family photo

If you watch daytime TV, you’ve probably seen the BBC’s Heir Hunters programme. It’s compulsive viewing. Heir hunter firms race against the clock to find missing heirs to estates and claim some of the inheritance money for themselves in fees.

The programme’s appeal is similar to Who Do You Think You Are? since you learn about the genealogy involved in tracing the deceased’s family tree. However, there can be a darker side to the work heir hunters do.

Excessive heir hunter fees

A number of firms charge excessive fees, meaning heirs can end up paying way more than if they had been charged by the time spent actually tracing them and carrying out the administration involved.

We’ve heard of one firm charging as much as 40% plus VAT, which equates to £120,000 of a £250,000 estate. Yet, the work might have only cost a few thousand pounds if based on the time spent.

What’s more, some firms don’t reveal the name of the deceased or the value of the estate when getting the heir to sign the contract agreeing to their terms. This means that you don’t know how much you will end up paying if you sign and are not in a position to assess whether the fees are fair.

Your inheritance rights

If you know who the relative is, you can make the claim yourself. Even if you did nothing you could get your inheritance anyway, as the administrator of the will has a duty to make sure all the heirs to an estate get their money. Yet, some heir hunters may imply that you will only get it if you sign their contract.

To avoid your relatives being approached by heir hunters when you die, you should make a will and keep it up-to-date.

Firms might argue that they do valuable work in making sure people receive inheritances and that this is an unexpected windfall for most people. They might also say that they risk time and money tracing people who may not sign up – leaving them out of pocket. Still, is it really necessary to charge fees so much higher than would be charged on a time-spent basis?

What do you think? Would you be happy to pay a large fee for an unexpected windfall, or do you think some heir hunters are exploiting the general lack of knowledge around this area?

532 comments

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daniel curran

I am MD of Finders, one of the companies interviewed by Which? for their article. Firstly I should point out that we offer four different fee options, two based on a percentage contingency fee and two based on a fee chargeable to the main estate. Whilst the article focuses on what may be cheaper for the consumer it fails to go into the detail required to understand exactly what the job of the professional probate genealogist, or ‘heir hunter’ entails. The contingency fees are only charged when an estate is distributed, often a year or more after we start work. The incentive is to find everyone entitled otherwise we do not receive anything at all for our work. Often if the solicitor knows of one or two heirs to an estate, but others are missing or unknown they opt for a contingency fee because to is charged to the formerly unknown heirs and does not deplete the shares of those who knew the Deceased all along. The ‘new’ heirs receive a windfall minus our commission fee. When working with solicitors we always offer to set a percentage fee limit in advance so we cannot invent the percentage on a whim. We have had many referrals from solicitors who have tired of using a fee based firm, complaining that they offer no choice other than to submit to their high hourly rate with no promise of a result. In fact, you could argue that the only incentive with a time based fee is to use up more time and thus more of the estate’s money. We have seen bills of tens of thousands of pounds from another firm who works in this way. Finders have been encouraged by the pro-contingency fee views expressed by Lord Justice Jackson and have had our fee options checked and approved by a leading QC. We offer legal back and numerous add-on services for probate lawyers are approved by a leading insurer and registered with the FSA for insurance business. We also have our own Professional Conduct Code and are members of the Association of Professional Genealogists who have a Code of Ethics. I find the sensationalist story mentioned above unbelievable; I have never heard this story before and we don’t know what, if anything the heir hunter concerned actually received. There are rogue traders in all walks of life, but I do not feel that tarring us all with one brush and promoting cutting us out after all our hard work is a responsible way forward. We encourage heirs to talk to us and offer them free legal advice, but we are also running a (respectable) business and of course need to make a profit in order to keep re-uniting heirs with unheard of inheritances in the future. Daniel Curran, MD & Founder of Finders International Probate Genealogists of London.

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Jon

Beware hourly rates!

I advise Finders and am shocked at the article. It swallows whole the suggestion that being charged an hourly rate is in some way a good thing. We co-operated extensively with Cathy, and we feel certain that she is an excellent journalist. At the same time, it seems clear that if readers sign up to an hourly rate deal, they are at risk of receiving an unlimited bill. We’ve heard some bad stories about this.

The beauty of fees which relate to the value of the estate is that they will always be proportionate, not extortionate. By their nature they will relate to the ability to pay and will promote access to your inheritance.

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Peter Birchwood

My company, Celtic Research works almost exclusively on Treasury Solicitor cases which are normally advertised weekly. Over the past few years fees charged by the various reputable companies have been well under the 40% mentioned above and indeed I have no idea who, if anyone, could have charged such a fee.

If we are working on an advertised case from the TS it is obviously impossible for us to negociate an hourly fee as there is no administrator in place to agree to such a fee. The only solution is a contingency fee which is fair to all parties.

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A. D. Thomas

I’m very Interested to hear your comment Mr Birchwood of Celtic Research, as your company has quoted contingency fees of 25% plus vat which work out at 30% of each beneficiaries share. On an overall estate of for example £150,000 (not unrealistic if a property is involved) Celtic Research’s contingency fee would be around £45,000. Any reasonable person would consider this rather excessive. For contingency fees to be fair to all contingency fees should be capped for example at 10% INCLUDING vat.

In the course of our research we came across a number of examples where the heir would have been charged way more for the work of an heir-hunter firm using a high percentage fee that if the same work had been charged on an hourly basis and where the heir was not given all the facts about the case.

In the 40% fee example mentioned above, the estate was worth £240,000 but the heir-hunter firm sent the heirs a bill for £150,000, which would leave them with just £64,000 after all the other costs involved.

We are also aware of firms charging fees of 25% plus VAT.

It’s not always the percentage fees themselves that are the problem but the size of the percentages, especially when the heir is not given all the information they need to be able to make an informed decision about whether the fee is fair.

It is claimed that percentage fees are the only option in cases where there is no administrator but it’s not clear why this means that the fees charged should be excessive. Other firms have also been able to find ways around this.

There are of course good and bad firms working in this market but we have heard of too many examples of questionable practice to be able to give the industry a clean bill of health across the board.

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daniel curran

Your limited research, with respect, hardly compares to my 21 years actual experience in probate genealogy and 13 years of running Finders. You have missed the point completely that hourly rates can easily, and often do, amount to more than contingency fee rates would have been. I have numerous reports copied to me where the main fee-based company have charged tens of thousands of pounds on hourly paid research where the contingency fee option would have cost considerably less. The contingency fee model involves risk and the potential of receiving nothing at all, the fee based researcher prefers the security of their hourly rate. We offer both. You are repeatedly quoting one case where a high fee was sought by an unknown rogue trader, the only example of this kind I have ever heard of in 20 years, which I think puts it into context. Unfortunately the BBC series has inspired a wave of scams and people working from home with no idea of what they are getting into. It is a shame you do not focus more on differentiating between rogue traders and true professionals. When advising your readers to go to a solicitor you should also warn them that the average inheritance, once distributed to all heirs, amounts to less than £1,000 each. On an individual level therefore a 25% fee would be £250. If the heir follows your advice and employs to a lawyer for advice who then pays for a genealogist to assist I think you will find 95% of your readers will end up with a large debt.

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Maria

If you are telling the truth about companies charging 40% Name the company Cathy, saying the truth is not libelous.

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John H

Ever since I started watching Heir Hunters, I have wondered how they make a profit in such a labour intensive industry with a high amount of abortive work.

There is, however, opportunity to take advantage of the vulnerable and no reason to treat it differently from any other financial service and leave it without appropriate regulation.

An issue, perhaps, for Which? input into the future of the FSA’s operations?

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Stephen Phillips

This is a shallow, sensationalist article, relying on the eye-popping 40% commission rate that the journalist has “heard of” to appeal to those with an appetite for scandal. Greater competition has pushed commission rates down to an average that is between 5 and 20%. In addition, most estates are considerably smaller than the £250,000 quoted and a well-balanced piece might have pointed out that contingency fees can often equate to an hourly rate that is very small indeed.

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David

It’s not an hourly rate v percentage debate. It’s about being aware that you can be ripped off either way by the rogue element in the industry. In the example in the article it’s the percentage v level of work being pointed out. (Come on, you must admit 150K is a least ten times too much)

Just because there may be a small proportion of ‘Rogue’ heir hunters doesn’t mean it’s right. One is too many.

@FINDERS – Your approach sounds great, but not every potential beneficiary has the luxury of choice when they get that knock at the door.

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Peter Turvey

What shoddy, half-baked reporting! Is she ex-News of the World? The sub-standard article is so poorly produced as to be laughable. We all know that there’s a rogue research firm that adopts a quasi-legal stance and puts out misleading ‘facts’ about our industry (whilst sneakily colluding with solicitors to rip off beneficiaries). This lazy article simply regurgitates the mis-information – the same phrases, the same ‘facts’.

Cathy Neal has the cheek to call herself a researcher – she wouldn’t last 5 minutes in my firm!

Peter Turvey, Managing Director, Anglia Research.

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Paul

So why aren’t you in your industry doing something about this rogue. You could name and shame and maybe save someone from being ripped off

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james

she probably wouldnt last 5 mins because she is too honest.

We’re very keen to welcome companies as commenters on this site and to hear their responses to our investigations, however I have to give a formal warning that comments are now not meeting our commenting guidelines.

There is no need to make personal, harassing and even potentially libellous comments about individual researchers – in the interest of fairness we will leave the comments made so far, but any further comments of this nature will be removed.

This topic has been researched thoroughly and we believe we’ve produced a balanced and fair article. Any companies who would like to see a copy can contact us and we will happily email you the article in full.

In the meantime, let’s get back on topic and quit the personal attacks. It would be good to hear any personal account from heirs who may have experiences of heir hunter companies…

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John H

Entirely agree with Hannah. As a Which? researcher working on solicitors’ services in 1970 I saw many such comments. Have heir hunters now adopted the arrogance that solicitors then had? If so it hardens my view that they should be treated as finacial services providers and made subject to external regulation. Better start working for it now – it only took 35 years to end self-regulation for lawyers. Perhaps Ian Marson would like to take up the challenge and say what sort of regulatory structure he would like to see for heir hunters.

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Maria

It is not a balanced article at all, because unfortunately it has not been researched properly, in fact, I think it is libelous ! The whole point of doing the T.V. show was to make the public aware how we work and the competition out there it is so fierce, that a so called 40% would always be beaten by any other firm charging much much less, as far as I’m aware NO one charges that much. I also see in the article written above that you can simply walk in the Treasury Solicitor’s office and claim your money very easily when in fact, even the Treasury has appeared on T.V. saying that an heir has to provide a family tree to prove their relationship to the deceased. Another thing is that an heir even if they read the Treasury list with all the names written there, they might not be aware that they are related to the deceased as it might be a long lost relative and this is best done by a professionals who are initially not charging you for their very long hours of work and once there is a contingency fee with the heirs, where they agree to pay the “Heir hunter’s ” fees if the case is successful, a responsible firm will also do the administration at no extra cost to the heirs, this involves paying lawyers out of the pocket of the heir hunter’s firm. Doing the administration often involves defending a property on behalf of the heirs at no extra cost to them against squatters who often vandalize the property, Fortunately, the laws have now been changed by the government and it will be easier in the future to evict the squatters but before this law was changed, it has in the past, taken as much as THREE years to evict someone before the property can be finally sold and recover the money from the sale for the heirs and also recuperate the money that heir hunters had to pay to the lawyers. I don’t know of any industry out there where they have to wait for three long years to finally get paid. On the next Heir Hunter’s show there will be one of these cases shown.

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Steven V

The ‘facts’ reported in this article are very much out of date. The industry simply doesn’t work like that anymore.

We’ve spoken to heirs who have been contacted in the last few months by heir-hunter firms that work in this way so sadly it seems that in some quarters it does.

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Maria

Cathy I would love to know the name of these companies.

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Maria

Isn’t that what supposedly the Which ? magazine is supposed to do ? to tell consumers which companies are best. You would do a great service if you tell us which heir hunters company is charging 40% It is not libelous if you are telling the truth Cathy. Leaving it up in the air without naming and shaming this company, people will assume all companies charge 40% which is not true.
If you do not name this company I will not believe anything written on the Which ? magazine ever again.

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Dave

Maria. You should really read all of the responses before commenting

Here’s something to help you

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2382659/Heir-hunters-told-pay-240-000-family-woman-took-88-cent-estate-tracked-down.html

http://www.newburyuk.co.uk/2013/heir-hunting-company-found-guilty-of-fraud/

In the Which? Money article (from 2011) we said that we had spoken to people who had been contacted by Fraser & Fraser and Hoopers – both were quoted contingency fees of 25% + VAT.

We didn’t name the company that quoted 40% in the article because at the time the individual involved was still going through a legal process with the firm to challenge the charges. However, we saw evidence at the time that this happened.

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Dave

Name away Cathy….

At the moment it would be accurate to say their commission was 100% because they have not paid a penny.

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wavechange

Maria did not like my suggestion (on page 5 of this discussion) that money should go into public funds to benefit everyone if heirs had not bothered to keep in touch with the deceased.

From what Cathy, Dave and others have told us, there are some serious problems in the industry and I’m even more convinced that the best way to use the money is for public benefit.

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Ian Marson

I would take issue with the comment by Hannah Joliffe about whether this topic was researched fully. I was approached by Dean Sobers from Which about this article some time ago but since I do not generally undertake Heir Hunting work I responded as Chairman of AGRA (The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives). AGRA is the only organisation in England and Wales that represents Genealogists and promotes standards and ethics in research practice, we also have a partner organisation in Scotland (ASGRA). It was founded in 1968 and membership is only open to those who can prove professional competence.

I was surprised therefore that Which chose to publish this article and never had the decency to acknowledge my reply to their initial email let alone discuss with me any medium for promoting standards in research or how a researcher can prove that they have professional competence. I also know from the feedback I have had from our members that Which failed to contact them about this investigation and I can only surmise therefore that Which has been selective on what organisations it chose to partake in the survey.

AGRA has many members who are Probate Genealogists and whilst we are not a regulatory body we do ensure that our members abide by a strict code of practice and when things do go wrong we have a complaints procedure and can mediate between Client and Researcher. I can say that it is many years since we have had any complaints about our heir hunting researchers.

As an organisation we do have concerns over a growth in the number of people offering professional research services with no experience other than having traced their own family history, I have had many enquiries from would be researchers asking for advice on how to start heir hunting, clearly with no knowledge of probate law or basic research practice. Most of these enquiries come as a result of the BBC heir hunters programme on TV which does nothing to portray a true perspective of probate genealogy.

There are well established reputable companies in the probate genealogy field but Which has not given them a fair hearing.

I should point out that AGRA is not a research organisation and as such we do not undertake or employ researchers.

Ian F. Marson
Chairman
AGRA
http://www.agra.org.uk

Hi Ian – I will contact you separately about this but we did mention AGRA in the magazine article.

The magazine article was focusing on the types of companies that approach heirs directly and designed to warn heirs that some charge excessive fees to allow them to make an informed decision about whether to sign up with them or not. AGRA members work differently to this.

We approached all the companies we had been contacted about and were able to find online but a number of them were not willing to provide us with information about their fees or send us examples of the letters and contracts they give or send to heirs.

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daniel curran

Cathy, I am worried that you don’t understand the situation. AGRA membership does not mean that their ‘members work differently to this’. It simply means that they belong to AGRA and are supposed to follow their rules, but it is no guarantee. AGRA is not a regulatory body. Finders chose to join the worldwide organisation APG (Association of Professional Genealogists) instead, who have a Code of Ethics – it appears that you did not contact the APG either? Neither has any regulatory control over their members other than to expel them if they are proven to have acted contrary to their rules, but this will not stop anyone trading in any event. It was not revealed that Title Research (who Which? researched) have twice been ruled against by the Advertising Standards Authority in recent years for misleading advertising. Finders have never had any such problems. I have written seperately to Cathy and I hope to have the courtesy of a reply soon.

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Susan

I am currently trying to decide how to proceed, having been approached by an “heir hunter”. What has frustrated me for weeks is the almost TOTAL lack of information on how to obtain your inheritance without using a third party. Which? states that you would it, without deduction, anyway, “even if you did nothing”. But how does this work for estates on the Bona Vacantia? I have sent the proof of lineage to the Treasury Solicitor but they will not tell me how to proceed except that I can either use my solicitor or they will release the small inheritance total “under an indemnity”. I can only assume that, if I didn’t want to pay for a solicitor then I would have to trace ALL the heirs and distribute the money. In other words, how do you proceed if there isn’t, yet, an administrator?
It all seems designed to drive you into the arms of the heir hunter or the hourly rates of a solicitor. So, Which?, this is an area where advice is sorely needed. I rang the Which? Legal advice line and they knew very little about it. Potentailly, this is an area that could be the most expensive comsumer issue of all!

Hi Susan. It’s not always a bad idea to use a third party – the key is that you are given enough information about the estate, the deceased and how much the final fee will be to enable you to make a decision about whether you are happy to go with that particular firm.

If you employ a solicitor they may in turn employ an heir-hunter firm but can look for one charging a reasonable rate. However, if the estate is very small, this may not be worthwhile.

All the heirs do need to be found but who you use to do the work or whether you try to track them down yourself very much depends on the circumstances.

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Maria

The heir Susan above is more informed than you are Cathy.
Before the firm of Genealogists contacts an heir, they have already done an extensive family tree and located where she lives as well as the rest of her family. If Susan signs a contract with an ” Heir Hunter ” firm she doesn’t have to worry about doing her own family tree and she doesn’t have to do the administration work either, ( this involves a year or more ) as it is all being done for her and if for some reason she doesn’t benefit from the estate, then she doesn’t have to pay a penny for the Heir Hunter’s services but she gets a free family tree. If on the other hand, she does benefit, then it is only fair that the Heir Hunter’s fee should be paid for their services don’t you think ?

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Maria

Yes, that is right. You will have to trace all your relatives yourself without leaving anyone out, if you do leave someone out through inexperience and they find out later, you are liable to be sued by your own relatives, this is why it is recommended that you take an indemnity insurance policy which are expensive, plus it will take you a year to administrate the case and prove to the Treasury Solicitor that you are a genuine heir and how exactly its your relationship to the deceased, you could find that there are closer heirs to yourself in the course of your investigation and get nothing out of it. It happens… and of course, you don’t know how much the estate its worth until you have provided the Treasury with all your work and it might turn out that you would have spent a lot more than you are actually going to get out of it. Its a risky business. Good luck !

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WindyCityNorth

Maria, no you don’t have to trace all your relatives ! I didn’t and received %100 …….NOT A DIME WAS PAID TO THE HEIR HUNTERS …except perhaps the lump sum paid by the solicitors to hire the Heir Hunters. Just refuse the heir hunters their percentage and you too will receive %100.

[This comment has been edited for breaking our guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

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Maurice

That is exactly why it is beneficial to use a professional heir hunter. They know what they are doing and it forms part of the service you are paying for.

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David

How do you know if you got a good one?

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Maurice

You should be able to contact them on the phone, they should have a web presence (many will have testimonials and references from clients and solicitors), you should be able to visit their offices. They should deal with you professionally and courteously.

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Maria

A good one would have been in the business for many years and will not charge you separately for the family tree and will also oversee the Administration at no extra cost to you, it will also be registered at Company House. In this business, we have seen a lot of new comers who last only a couple of years, here today and gone tomorrow because a lot of uninformed people think that this is a quick rags to riches business but when they find out that it is complicated, and each case is completely different with its own complexities, where a lot of time and money has to be invested these companies leave, to do something more profitable.

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Steven V

Apparently Which? doesn’t take criticism of its ‘research’ too well. My comments keep being deleted.

Hi Steven, I have just emailed you to explain why we have removed your messages. Here is my message again:

I removed your first comment because I had already posted a warning earlier in the discussion stating that we would not tolerate personal attacks and insults. Your comment was not adding anything to the discussion and was purely designed to belittle the author. I have now removed your second comment because I’m emailing you directly to explain.

If you – or anyone else – leaves insulting comments they will be removed.

We are happy to discuss criticisms of our research – as Cathy’s responses above show – but we would like to do so in a mature manner.

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Steven V

Let me put it this way. A well researched, unbiased, balanced and fair piece would not cite one case with a anomalously high fee and try to pass that off as the standard for the rest of the industry. Where are the counterpoints? The examples of operating at a massive loss on a vast number of cases? This is why I say your research is poor, and should be taken with a pinch of salt. It is not intended as a personal attack against the author.

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Maria

Stephen, I’m not sure if what Which ? magazine is saying its true, since they have not mentioned what firm its charging this outrageous fees. As you will know, heirs in competitive cases are being approached by several companies and I don’t think anyone will sign for 40% when there are other companies who are offering a lot less than that.

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WindyCityNorth

I agree ZERO percent is a lot less than % 40…..!

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Simon Wright

My name is Simon Wright and I am Chief Executive of Anglia Research Services, one of the largest firms of Probate Genealogists in the UK. We do not offer a single form of charging. We act for various organisations working on fixed fee, hourly rate and conditional fee at the clients’ choice.

In terms of Bona Vacantia, it is highly competitive work. We are in competition with many other firms, some of whom have already replied to this highly slanted piece. We are in direct competition to locate and sign up beneficiaries of unclaimed intestate estates. The beneficiaries, without our initiative and risk-taking, would never hear of their entitlement.

We work on hundreds of such cases a year, where, win or lose, we bear the costs. Some of these produce no relative at all, whilst many others lead to nothing like the level of return that even begins to pay for our research costs. Because the market is competitive the fees we can charge are far lower than those quoted. I regularly see fees come across my desk lower than 5%.

The 40% argument sounds like it is lifted from the files of the ONLY firm of Probate Genealogists that charge solely on a time cost basis (and, it must be added, at rates of 2 to 3 times per hour of the rates we charge). This is the same firm that had to withdraw from competitive work as they were wholly unable to compete. It is also the same firm that has been investigated and found to be misleading by the Advertising Standards Agency, not once but twice!

In cases of partial intestacy, where there is an Executor (usually a solicitor) who can instruct, how is it fair or just that members of a family close to the deceased should bear the costs of locating family members that are distant and unknown?

I despair somewhat that Which have been hoodwinked by a single maverick company into attacking the good work done by many firms. Whilst there are without doubt some one-man bands that are not, for example, AGRA or APG members, that do not have FSA registration for other activities and do not carry the Professional Indemnity required of reputable professional companies such as ourselves, it is unfair to tar all with the same brush.

I shall be writing separately to voice my concerns that Which have been manipulated by this maverick firm to write a piece as unbalanced as that which is published above and I shall also be considering our position in relation to a complaint to the PCC.

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David

So, W
when the BBC does a program like Rogue Traders, that’s wrong because it suggests all builders are bad?

Programs like that help inform people to watch out. Did the article say you were all crooks. No. But, it pointed out, as you have agreed, that there are people out that that will manipulate people’s ignorance of this area (How often do people get heir hunted, they have no frame of reference to judge whether they are being cheated). It’s happened, fact!

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David

Dodgy carriage return above. It shouldn’t say ‘So W’, sorry

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Disbelief

Reading the comments above – you all seem in denial!

I have been approached by one of the heirhunters featured on the BBC’s program re an inheritance I am due – they wish me to supply various dates to them plus sign on the dotted line and give away 25% plus vat – for something that will cost me approx £90 and two hours of my time if I do it myself – so – you work out the maths!

And as an aside, this ‘reputable’ firm is also breaking the law as regards letterheads and company websites – they would appear to not have the correct details on either … a small point possibly in this matter – but it dammed well annoys me when they can’t even get the basic legals right – it doesn’t inspire me with confidence.

But back to the matter in hand – yes I can believe that some cost will be incurred to make the initial family tree – and that yes being in business you do have to make a profit – but hello … 25% of each and every heir?? Now that is taking the pith!!

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Stephen Phillips

So why didn’t you “do it yourself” ages ago?

Is it because you didn’t know you were entitled to any money?

Without the intervention of the professionals you would be getting 100% of nothing.

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Maria

Perhaps you are retired and have lots of time to do your family tree (including all your relatives in it, so that they can also benefit from the estate ) plus also do the administration yourself, which takes a year, if there is a property to sell. Why do people think heir hunters should not be compensated for their work ?

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WindyCityNorth

Maria, Heir Hunters should be fairly compensated for their work. What is fair to you %35 …%20 or less than %10 . My choice is less than %10. If you pay more ….. than you are getting ripped big time. I settled for ZERO percent and got %100 . How does that math work for you.

WCN

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Disbelief

If Stephen would care to read my reply again – or anyone else – please do point out where I said I didn’t acknowledge that there was a business here and money to be made – my point that poor Stephen seems to have missed – perhaps his glasses got steamed up ….. is that I object to the amount they were going to charge each and every heir …

So just to say it again … 25% of every heirs money? Easy money when you have lots of brothers and sisters involved – wow, guess that means you have a lot of outlay then don’t you? All of a birth certificate and possible death certificate … that warrants being paid possible thousands of pounds?

Money for old rope … I am in the wrong business!!

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Maurice

What about those cases that are only worth say £5,000?

A company could have put in many hours work, spent considerable sums on certificates, research etc etc only to find out the case is worth very little. The companies fees then amount to ~£1,250 which may not even begin to cover expenses.

The fact is when a company starts working a case they do not know how much is is worth.

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Maria

Yup, you got it just right. When working a Treasury case, you don’t know if its worth only £500 pounds divided into 40 heirs.

Ignorant people fail to see that it also takes a year or more, for any of the funds to be paid out. On average, 1 case out of ten its a good one. Most of it, its just frustrating work or… if you are successful in tracking the right relatives, it might be worth very little, if you had known about it, then you would not have bothered to work on it and just allowed The Treasury to have it, without bothering to contact any heirs.Otherwise, you are working at a loss.

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Pedanticus

Two points: in the case where the beneficiaries are paying £150k plus in expenses out of an estate of £240k, why don’t you (Which?) put them in touch with one of the two barristers who gave opinions that such fees “may not be enforceable in court”. Simples. As a matter of interest, what are the other £36k of expenses that leave them with just £64k? They must be legal expenses in which case those are also excessive fees and must be challengeable via the Law Society.

My second point is you say in the article that you think firms should allow a cooling-off period. You will be pleased to know that Parliament agrees, hence The Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer’s Home or Place of Work etc Regulations 2008.

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Maria

There is a cooling off period, but this is why it is important not to reveal all the research you have done. Or do you think let’s say for example a private detective will reveal all of the information he has found on a research before being paid first ? What you are saying Its dishonest to try to get all the information from a company that has worked hard and invested money and obtain it from them free. I’m astonished that people think the heir hunters should work for free.

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WindyCityNorth

Maria, they don’t work for free … the solicitor pays them a lump sum …. then they go and try to drum up extra money by browbeating the heirs into paying a percentage. You should do more research before commenting.

WCN

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Pedanticus

Sorry, legals work out at £26k. Still way OTT.

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Disbelief

Can I just pass comment on the amount of people who seemingly agree with the various business that like to charge ‘over the odds’ for it and the amount of disagreements given to those of us who voice disagreement with their business models … doesn’t alter the fact that ‘normal’ people can read this and see behind the scenes and realise they do have other options.

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Maria

What do you know about this business ? Just talking at the top of your head and assuming things…

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Pedanticus

Just wondering if the beneficiaries being fleeced in the “outrageous fees” story were signed up at their homes, and if so were they given the right to cancel within 7 days in the form prescribed by the 2008 Regulations. If not, the contract is unenforceable. I think there might be similar legislation for distance selling.

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Disbelief

And how many ‘lay’ or non business people know about distance selling regulations and cooling off periods??

I know all about them as I deal with them on a daily basis – but have a parent who knows nothing about their rights when purchasing things on the internet.

@Maurice – who comments about the estates whereby the various involved don’t make much money …. what kind of justification is that for charging silly amounts of money to those that do come in to a large amount of money …. I must go put up my rates – just in case I don’t make as much money on one business deal as I do the rest!! NOT!!

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Maurice

A good justification? I always try to contract heirs at the same % because I do not know, when starting the work, how much an estate will be worth. Working on a percentage basis therefore means my commission is always proportionate to the beneficiaries entitlement. In some cases I make a small profit, in many I actually make a loss. On some rare occasions I make a profit large enough to pay for all the other losers and for me to make a living.

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Maria

I doubt this story of a firm signing heirs for a 40% its real.
I don’t think its true. Otherwise the company would have been mentioned. No libel in telling the truth. However, the piece written in Which ? magazine on the other hand, it is libelous, as it not providing any proof to the story and its simply tarring all the heir hunter firms with the same brush.

These days, all you have to do, is to go into an Internet site to find out directly from the public what their experience are without having to buy a Which ? Magazine and its free from your mobile phone.

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Disbelief

Maurice – so you do sometimes then charge different %’s to heirs of the same estate?? It was your words ‘try’ that gave that one away!

Surely when you get details of the case, you have an option to walk away from it?

If one of my clients came to me and said they were entering in to a business that they were unsure of the probability on a case by case basis – I know what I would say to them – change the way you take money from it then – don’t base your costs on a chance percentage – make your costs up front and charge per hour etc.

What I don’t get – is that in the instance of having heirs who are all closely related – you merely need one more birth certificate at approx £9 and yet you still charge a large percentage for that …. in those cases you are printing money for your business.

In these days of facebook and the internet as well, where its easier to track people – so don’t come back with the old ‘leg work’ excuse – in my case a man turned up at my mothers door looking for my father – who wasn’t around himself any longer – the man spent five mins chatting to my mum where he was given names and addresses of me and my siblings – he then went back to his office, typed out some letters, stuck them in envelopes and posted them to us – and in those letters we were asked to provide dates of birth/marriage etc – so doing groundwork for them as well … and you are telling me that this company having spent very little is entitled to 25% of each of our money?

Again, someone explain to me the justification to this? Oh thats right – the easy ones, have to pay for the difficult cases …

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Paul

You’re not a solicitor, by any chance?

It’s always hugely entertaining to hear the legal profession complain about over-charging.

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Maurice

In all honest ‘Disbelief’, you clearly have a very limited knowledge and/or experience of what is actually required in order to get to the point of knocking on peoples doors or sending out letters to potential beneficiaries.

I’ll agree that in the example you cited, 25% seems excessive, I’ve never charged so much myself, but what knowledge do you have of how much work it took the genealogist to get to the point of visiting your mother? It may be that it was very little in which case 25% does seem excessive. It may be that he had been working the case for months, purchasing many certificates, making visits to local record offices etc etc – in which case the 25% seems less excessive.

All I am trying to point out is that your one encounter with a probate genealogist doesn’t really qualify you to speak with any authority on the matter.

Oh and yes, I have at times had to charge some beneficiaries more than others on the same estate because more work has gone into locating them and I have therefore incurred greater costs.

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Maria

Sometimes there are 80 heirs on an estate that is worth £1,000, it still takes a year to pay out and it still needs to be administered.

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Disbelief

No Paul I am not …

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Disbelief

Of course Maurice I have limited experience – I don’t often find myself inheriting money from my relatives!! Sorry – slightly sarcastic perhaps in tone, but should you read the whole thread and comments you would see that I am the one on the other end of your business – the one that fails to understand why me and my siblings and my cousins should pay out a fortune for simply ticking a box and providing dates.

Oh I know exactly how much work was undertaken – it took me very little time to go through the relevant census online – to trace my connection – as don’t forget, I had to provide birth/death and various marriage certificates – then out of curiosity, I decided to see the other side of the family that I knew nothing about – again – it took me about an hour of searching on various websites to find how many others were eligible to inherit. Yes it was dammed hard work, sitting at my desk, reading and having to make a few notes on a scrap of paper – and lets not forget either – that I don’t have access to microfiche that the big companies have or backend access to various sites either. Mine was all done free of charge and just using the internet.

So no, whilst I cannot talk with authority on the subject as in I aint been in business doing it – I have traced four generations of my immediate family and four generations of various I know nothing about, in a very short space of time, all on that thing called the internet, so please don’t patronise me with your comments.

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James Royle

And I’m sure I could do your job easily too.

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KF

Hi Disbeleif………My brother has been contacted by heir hunters he let me know they sent me a letter I did’nt sign so I’ve been in touch with the solicitor dealing with it but I dont seem to be getting very far ………….Could anyone help me please with some advice

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Disbelief

Dear James – please do come and do my job – having not had a holiday for some years, I could do with one!! Although I have been very successful at everything I have turned my hand to, what with running three very successful business’s … so coming up with a viable business model that doesn’t rip off clients seems an easy option – said heading away to do some research!!

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Jill

most interesting reading all the comments. I have been approached by heir hunters who have
identified an asset or assets due to my mother who died 14 years ago. My mother’s surname is very unusual and she did leave a will with myself as the sole beneficiary. I also have a very unusual name and they appear to have found me easily. They will tell me absolutely nothing about the testator or the asset concerned apart from implying that it may be a liquid asset which is not less than £800 and probably not more than about £6000. This particular firm stipulated a commission of one third of the value of the asset, and upon objections from me offered a reduction to 30%.I still feel this is exorbitant and would appreciate any advice about how to proceed.

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Snowdrop

Please can someone enlighten me. Out of 5 claimants to an estate 3 have signed and two have not. What happens in this case? Does everyone get their inheritance or only the ones who signed?

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Pedanticus

Everyone is entitled to their inheritance: it is not dependent on having agreed to pay away a proportion of it to heir hunters.

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samantha webb

Hi all. I have read all your comments and am still not sure as to what the average percentage should be, for the fee charged from a probate genealogists .There have been mention percentages between 5% to 40% ,the company that have contacted my family have set a fee equivalent to 20% plus 24% vat. at todays rate. Could you please advise me as to the national avarage.
Many thanks

Samantha Webb

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Maria

I don’t know which company has contacted you. I can see that it must be a local company since they are charging VAT. Could it be that the inheritance comes from abroad ? where it would involve more than one company collaborating in this case in trying to find your family ? If not, I would advice you not to sign anything and ask more questions and if it is a Treasury case, no doubt several other companies will try to contact you with a more reasonable percentage,

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WindyCityNorth

Maria , you make a good point … look for a more agreeable percentage …. I chose a percentage of zero and got %100 owed to me. The advice not to sign anything is also very well thought out Maria. You are coming around from the dark side I see.

WCN

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rarrar

I really dont see what the fuss is about.

With the provisos that:

1) No misrepresentation takes place or misleading information is provided.
2) No collusion or agreements on fees and costs exists between competitor companies.

Why shouldnt a business be allowed to charge whatever fees it likes ?
Consumers dont HAVE to sign-up.
If there are enough similar businesses around then market -forces will prevail.

We dont regulate the fees charged by IFAs. planning consultants or the companies who will manage mis-selling claims.
So why should there be limits on the fees charged by this particular type of business ?

nb I have and never had any connection with businesses operating in this or similar fields.

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snowdropbooks

It’s not an issue of a % in my opinion more about a reasonable dat rate for the work done. At a £300 a day rate and 3 weeks work, plus expenses and VAT this I believe is a better way to calculate what to pay. Or use 10% up to a capped amount of £3000. Or do the work yourself it isn’t difficult.

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Maria

What an ignorant remark ! ” ” At a £300 a day rate and 3 weeks work, plus expenses and VAT ” Really ??? I don’t know why people who don’t know anything about this business speak as though they are authorities on the subject. This is so far from the truth, we need to show on the T.V. what happens after the heirs have been found because that is only the beginning of the work, since it has to be approved by the Treasury Solicitor then administrated and finally after a year get paid.

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WindyCityNorth

Maria , do you know the best thing about paying an Heir Hunter ZERO percent …. it’s the fact the VAT is also ZERO percent. I know ….. some of you like to pay government tax’s as well as outrageous fees to unsavory salesman.

WCN

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Incredulous

When living in France, it was a common joke just how many taxi drivers leaving Dover for a new life in France had become Builders by the time they drove off the ferry in Calais! This all smacks of a similar situation; Just because we can do a bit, we seem to believe we are all experts!
I would consider myself an experienced amateur genealogist, but I would never assume I know as much as a trained, qualified and registered genealogist and that would be my minimum requirement of anyone approaching me – otherwise I may consider following through myself – IF I had the time and money to carry out the necessary research and the necessary knowledge to deal with the relevant legal bodies. Alternatively, if I wasn’t happy with the credentials of the Company approaching me, I would seek one out from amongst the various bodies involved and be glad to pay a reasonable fee to employ their expertise.
As consumers we do have choice, we can say ‘No’ and we can go elsewhere. I try never to sign up for anything on the day and, if felt pressured to do so, would question the integrity of the company approaching me. However, if I did succumb to this presssure, surely this ‘in home’ selling must carry a 7-day cooling off period? If not, why not? Also, If I agree to pay 40% then, I am sorry, I have every right to refuse to pay 60% at final invoice stage!!
It is sadly a fact of life that there are unscrupulous traders in every single trade, even where there are regulations in place to prevent this, these people will find the loopholes enabling them to circumvent the rules. As consumers we must acept that there is no deal where you get something for nothing. If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Never rely on just one quotation for anything. Recognise that a low price can be as much of a rip-off as a high price.

Only by using our heads can we give honest businesses the chance to thrive and let the unscrupulous others know that they haven’t got a chance!

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Snowdropbooks

This made me giggle loads- mainly because of the builders in France comment, but also the concept of genealogists being trained and qualified- trained in what exactly reading and adding up and being able to understand dates! I don’t want to be rude to anyone but genealogy isn’t rocket science hence how many people list it as a hobby. The only legal bits you need to know are all outlined on government sites about inheritance, and if you can read and follow instructions then you can use a solicitor for the legal bits that ar required. The costs are not huge, £9 for each certificate you send for, a subscription of about £100 for genes reunited or ancestry.com. Borrow a book on genealogy from the library and read it carefully. Three or our solid weekends should suffice to create a full family tree, and facebook can help connect up family members who working as a team can between them and family photos and old address books solve any small mysteries around dates etc. Most people would find the family search quite interesting and fun as I did.
Re the amateur, when you are highly motivated ie wanting to save many thousand of pounds in
fees it’s amazing what you can achieve.

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Incredulous

Glad it raised a giggle at least! :)
I rest my case.

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WindyCityNorth

[This comment has been removed. Thanks, mods.]

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JohnH

If heir hunters were regulated, would they be obliged to advise the Treasury of the existence of potential claimants who had declined to sign up?

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Pedanticus

Re Windy City North’s e-mail, as a solicitor with some experience of these cases, the answer is yes, of course you are entitled to inherit without signing up with anyone. The problem is no one would tell me where to find you and your problem is would you be able to find me?

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WindyCityNorth

[This comment has been removed. Thanks, mods.]

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Pedanticus

Sorry to disappoint you, WCN. I did answer your question though and, despite the question mark (it was late!) I didn’t actually ask you any for you to decline to answer.
The person from whom you are entitled to inherit is often a distant relative you’ve never heard of. In any event, the HH is unlikely to tell you who it is even if you sign up. So who are you going to phone and what are you going to tell them?
Why would you not be found? Well, you probably would be, but unless you signed, it is unlikely I would be told. So unless you found me, your share would end up going back to the Crown. Well done finding me, btw. You only have a few thousand more solicitors to go through to find the right one.

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WindyCityNorth

[This comment has been removed. Thanks, mods.]

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Pedanticus

Have you been reading my comments? The question does not remain. I answered it in my first comment. In case you have misplaced it, here it is again: “yes, of course you are entitled to inherit without signing up with anyone.” I’m sorry if you find that confusing and overly defensive. Good luck to you if you manage to spread the word around the relevant parties. What point are you trying to make? In my experience you wouldn’t be given much information to spread.

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Snowdropbooks

The facts-

An application by an Heir Hunter or anyone to release the funds must show that all beneficiaries have been identified, also insurance is taken out by the claimant so that any future un named beneficiaries are also protected in any future claims.

If you are contacted, it doesn’t take much diggingbto discover which relative has died, simply a supbscription to one of the genealogy sites, a few phone calls to other relatives, and through a team effort the discovery can be made.

In my experience, two out of the five beneficiaries have signed up. Three of us are working to put in a claim, which if it is accepted first will protect the others from having to pay. If the HH claim goes in first then the two will pay and the three will not. We have as a preliminary precaution explained the situation to the treasury so that they are aware of the number and contact details of the claimants. We will know which solicitor the treasury is dealing with because we will be informed.

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WindyCityNorth

[This comment has been removed. Thanks, mods.]

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Peter Birchwood

Snowdrop:
It’s nice to have a really well-researched family tree where evryone is accounted for but how many people have that sort of tree. Maybe the deceased is a grandson of your aunt Millie. Did you know her well enough to understand what happened to her children and if perhaps one of her grandsons died and is the source of the estate? We approach from the fact of a deceased person with an estate and with unknown relatives. Doing it the other way round sometimes works but often doesn’t.

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Maria

[This comment has been removed for breaking our guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

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N

Similarly to Jill who posted on 29th July I have been approached by a firm stipulating 1/3 of value of asset.
Having read some of the posts on this site this would appear to be quite a high charge.
I do not know what the asset is. I have always been interested in family trees and have my direct family tree back to the 1700′s and I cannot think of any recent deaths that would leave me in line to inherit anything. Perhaps it could be some other sort of asset?

So is my best bet to start phoning other companies and try to get a better commission fee or is there somewhere I can start looking to figure it out for myself?

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WindyCityNorth

[This comment has been removed. Thanks, mods.]

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A. D. Thomas

If you have your family tree, log on to the Bona vacantia (treasury solicitors) site and check out the lists of deceased people. If in doubt give them a ring I’ve found them very helpful. Lots of Luck. I have experience of a VERY dodgy and VERY greedy firm of heirhunters, don’t let them grind you down, and don’t believe them if they tell you that you will forego your entitlement if you don’t sing up with them. Ask them to put that in writing because it is not true. If you are entitled to part of an estate, you are entitled whether you sign up with a firm or not.

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Peter Birchwood

If you are an heir on an estate then you are an heir whether or not you sign an Agreement BUT you have to prove your relationship. Whether its the Treasury Solicitor or a Solicitor already acting for one of the other heirs on the estate you will have to provide documentation (ie certificates of birth, marriage and death) that link you to the deceased. If it’s a solicitor acting for a family member then that solicitor will deal with your claim and decide on the strength of the paperwork that you provide whether or not you are entitled to a share.

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WindyCityNorth

[This comment has been removed. Thanks, mods.]

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Susan

Supposing that I have proved my own link to the Treasury Secretary but no one has appointed a solicitor/heir hunter – and I don’t want to do all the tracing of the other heirs or appoint a solicitor myself? Does that mean I won’t get the money? I seem to be in a stalemate over a very small amount of cash, around £300 for my share.
Will my inaction mean that I will never get it?

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Peter Birchwood

Susan:
I take it that you are not a sole heir and that you know or suspect that there are other people on your family tree that would have a claim on the estate. The TS will release the estate to you because all they need is proof that there is an heir who has a claim in preference to the Crown. However if you decide that you are not going to bother to find the other heirs what are you going to do with the rest of the money apart from what you think is your £300 share? If you do not do the work needed to find all of the other heirs then you are going against your legal duty as an Administrator and that can land you in serious legal trouble.

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