/ Money

Are heir hunters cheating us out of our inheritance?

Vintage family photo

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?

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?

Comments
TheSecretHeirHunter says:
20 November 2013

Most companies in the industry have their preferred solicitors who they refer their client to, some take a referral fee for this some don’t. No one actually owns a firm of solicitors that I’ve heard of.
PB, you previously posted that your company makes no charge to the estate for expenses. I’ve heard that you ask your preferred solicitors to refund you all the money you’ve spent of certificates in researching a case. Are you directly denying this?

“No one actually owns a firm of solicitors that I’ve heard of.” At the bottom of a letter that I have drom a company I shall call WP is a note: “WP is a trading name of ARS Ltd.” Perhaps I am mistaken and WP does not have any solicitors working for it at all?
“I’ve heard that you ask your preferred solicitors to refund you all the money you’ve spent of certificates in researching a case” I deny this.

TheSecretHeirHunter says:
21 November 2013

You mentioned that one firm actually owned a firm of Solicitors.
As of this evening there’s no registration at the SRA or Law Society for a Solicitor’s firm in the name of Wolsey Probate (who I assume you mean by WP).
So do your solicitors automatically refund you your disbursements then without you asking? Or are you now assuring your clients that you’ve stopped making these hidden charges?

So Wolsey Probate is not a firm of solicitors and doesn’t have any solicitors working for it? Are they also not owned by ARS and therefore able to give potential heirs independent advice?
Perhaps you would care to email me (you have my address as I have yours) and tell me to what you are referring so that I can sort it out.

TheSecretHeirHunter says:
22 November 2013

All I’m saying is that based on the evidence Wolsey Probate are not registered as a firm of Solicitors, unless you know differently? I’m fairly sure that a Solicitor can work wherever they want to and not just in a regulated firm of Solicitors. Everyone knows full well that WP is owned by ARS, I don’t think they make a secret of it.
Again, are you now assuring your potential clients that you no longer request or receive a reimbursement for the disbursement costs involved in your research?
I think you’re making some inaccurate assumptions about who I am!

I think I know who you are and you know me so you can always send me a message (anonymous will do) giving the details of your accusation.

thesecretheirhunter says:
28 November 2013

I’ve given the details already, I’ve been told it’s your general policy not just a single case. Celtic aren’t the only firm to do it either, there’s lot of others. Your just the one who’s openly commenting.

I don’t think that the boards administrators will allow me to give my real comment but I will say this:
It is not the policy, general or otherwise for Celtic Research to request or receive a reimbursement for the disbursement costs involved in pur research. If someone else has told you this then they are trying to mislead you. This is my last word on this subject so I suggest you try and find something else to do with your abundant free time.

The Secret Heir Hunter says:
3 December 2013

Well I’ve seen a set of estate accounts that says differently, as have others in the industry! You could have used this opportunity to come clean but your final comment speaks for itself.

Linda says:
29 June 2015

Hi Secret Heir Hunter I would be interested in communicating with you about ARS and Wolsey Probate as I may have a problem with them about how they are very particular with whom they communicate andI feel that they are hiding things from me which I cannot write about on here but I would love to discuss this matter with someone who might be able to assist me in sorting them out, I am a beneficiary of an estate they are handling,

Michaela says:
8 December 2013

Windy City North, I’m in the U.S. and have tried to work Illinois funds. With ‘tried’ I mean that it’s much more labor intensive than some other states that I work, and it simply wasn’t good use of my time.

BUT, I can tell you that you will only receive funds, if someone has identified you already and has included you in the family tree, along with all proof.

There are millions and millions of $ worth of estates that are just sitting there, because heirs are missing or unknown. Heir hunters are the only ones working on these. The only reason why you may have gotten something for free, would be if you were some small heir of a larger estate and the heir hunter decided to take you along, because the other shares were worth it to them. One of the estates I worked on had 2 heirs that were being stubborn/stupid and didn’t want to sign and I just let the whole thing go. I don’t want to work with people that don’t appreciate it. The money is still sitting there, because none of the heirs wants to put up the funds to do the whole thing for everyone else. So, they’re all losing out.

Right now the agency that’s holding those millions has some disagreement with the state, as to who is supposed to hold them for escheatment. But this money is all money that you claim will just mysteriously be mailed to all these heirs, even though it’s been sitting there for many years.

WindyCityNorth says:
8 December 2013

Michaela, good points. My case was not a small amount .. trust me. The way it works in the UK is that everyone has to be paid whether they signed a contract or not. They can’t let the funds go unless it is fairly distributed. Of course their are the odd case’s where you will be cheated. It is against the law not to fairly distribute the funds in the UK.

Maria says:
8 December 2013

WindyCityNorth, You are asking the Probate Research companies to work for you for free. If you haven´t sign a contract with them they are not obliged to represent you and do all the work for free for you, your share will simply stay there unclaimed in an account. What you are proposing is akin to asking a bus driver to take you for free because he has a lot of people who are being taken to the same destination. The Probate Research companies are NOT asking you money in advance, they are asking you to pay their fees IF your claim is successful, they are taking the risk all along because it could happen that the heirs will NOT get anything for some unforeseen reason, like for example the estate had too many debts or the deceased did not pay his bills and there is nothing left in the estate after the taxes have been paid, It has happened, so who bears the brunt? who bears the risk ? Yes, it is the heir hunters not you.

Maria says:
8 December 2013

Hi Michaela, we even did a show on T.V. here in the U.K. where all the major and reputable firms appear with the idea to educate the public about our business but despite this show being in the 8th series of 15 episodes each, there are still people out whose brains do not comprehend how this business works. As you very well know, this is a business where we are not asking for money in advance but only if we are successful in claiming the funds for them and be paid when they get it, so this guarantees that the heirs are never out of pocket in this endevour so it helps people who are not well off and could not possibly afford the attorneys fees that are involved.

Recently I had a case in the U.S. where the attorney charged me a retaining fee of $500 dollars and she took the retaining money and never replied nor did any work on the case, so I´m out of pocket but I continued and find another one who is doing the work that the previous firm of attorneys did not do, he is working very well. All I have to do now is to have the certificates translated into English by a legal translator to submit their claim to the Court.

Maria says:
8 December 2013

Micaela, please excuse my English as it is not my mother tongue, on re-reading my post, I noticed mistakes.! Is Cox still in business ?

Maria says:
8 December 2013

Windy City North,
A windfall is always helpful to everyone for whatever they have to use it for, whether it is to take them out of debt or whatever…

One of your relatives gave your details and this is why you got your money whilst your relatives paid the probate researcher fees, you paid nothing, you allowed your relatives to pay, whilst you got your share on their backs and that is dishonest.


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

Hello Maria and Windy City. Please take note of our commenting guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines

Do not make your comments personal. Be polite to one another and try not to make accusations. Thanks.

Maria says:
9 December 2013

Well, it is not nice Patrick to constantly have someone here, who has on numerous occasions has had her posts deleted by you for braking the rules and then she goes on to accuse the ” Heir Hunters ” for deleting her comments ! Many people here have had the same problems with her for writing ignorant nonsense. You have even deleted a lot of her most outrageous claims at her request and have left in my comments, which make it look as though I’m just talking to the air. No one gets a check from the treasury before having proved who you are. What she is saying is simply not true.

WindyCityNorth says:
9 December 2013

I was able to get someones post edited by the moderater …. it was simply done by reporting comments that were outside the guidelines. Someone in this article has said that “which” edits or deletes comments… well it has been proven by myself that any commentater on here can have posts edited or deleted.

WCN

Maria says:
10 December 2013

Wind, this is wrong again. There are heirs that simply cannot be traced and this is why every responsible firm has an indemnity insurance, in case the heirs appear at a later date, after the relatives that have been successfully traced have already received their money. We have a case right now that is now 12 years old where there are two heirs, we succeeded in finding the niece and re-unite her with a trust that her uncle in Chicago had left to her and the residue of his estate is suppose to go to her aunt but even though every effort has been made to locate this aunt by searching for her in England, Ireland, Scotland, the U.S. Canada, Australia, New Zealand there is simply no trace of this aunt and her whereabouts are a mystery. We have looked to see if she died or married or possibly emigrated to the U.S. Canada, Australia and New Zealand or gone back to Ireland but nothing… We even showed her photo on the Heir Hunters T.V. program in a last resort bid to see if anyone out there might recognize her and come forward but nothing… it does seem as though the earth has swallowed her without a trace. So her money is still sitting in the lawyer’s client bank account without being claimed.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

In Germany and France heirs HAVE TO PAY the Heir Researcher even when they HAVE NOT signed a contract because the law recognizes that a lot of work and investment has been made before in order to find these heirs, also, information has been given to the heirs that was previously unknown to them before the heir was approached and the heirs would never have known if it wasn’t because it was provided to them by the hunter researcher. so an unscrupulous heir is not allowed to use this information to get for his own benefit without recognizing the work done by Heir Researcher.

I think it is time the law was changed in this country like they have it in Germany and France.

I have not watched the TV programme and am not impressed by the amount of squabbling on these pages.

My suggestion is that if heirs are not known, the money should go to the government to fund much needed improvements to the NHS and to support the most needy in society. If families have not kept together then perhaps no-one deserves to be tracked down to tell them that they have an unexpected windfall.

Maria says:
8 December 2013

I don’t see why if the deceased relatives have worked very hard during during their lives, why their relatives cannot benefit ? I think it is fair that it goes to their kin.

We have had cases where the relatives who get this windfall happen to be bankrupt so the windfall goes to pay the bankruptcy court and it helps them to make their debt a lot less, so it helps them too. The government gets the V.A.T. money anyway and the inheritance tax has to be paid if the estate goes beyond the threshold plus if the case happens to be more than 12 years old, the government doesn’t pay the interest to the estate, it does keep the interest that has been accumulating during those 12 years, so no, if it helps the deceased’s family after they are gone, that is a good thing. Apart from that, on cases where the deceased family has died out, when all the branches have died, then the government gets the whole lot because there are no relatives to give it to. If a deceased person living in the Duchy of Cornwall dies intestate, all his estate goes to the Prince of Wales.

WindyCityNorth says:
8 December 2013

Maria , if you charge someone %30 … the VAT tax is based on your %30 take. If the charge is 0% their is no VAT . In a previous post you mentioned that paying tax’s to the government is one of your priorities. For the readers of this article this translates into the fact that the more VAT she brings in for the government the more cash she pockets. What a great business you are in.

WCN

Maria says:
9 December 2013

Windy City North, Paying VAT its something you have to do if your earnings go beyond a certain threshold, If you do NOT pay VAT you would be evading taxes and will be prosecuted by the government. It is our accountants who do this, not myself.

WindyCityNorth says:
9 December 2013

Vat is collected by the Heir Hunters on the services rendered by the Heir- Hunter .. it is then submitted to the government. If no services are rendered ….their is no VAT. Pretty simple … maybe an accountant can figure this out ? !!!!!!

Maria says:
9 December 2013

Windy what it your point ?

Services are rendered, so we pay V.A.T. it is simple. We work many cases and I will say it again, if anyone’s earnings go beyond a certain threshold, then people are obliged to pay V.A.T. to the Treasury, it is as simple as that. It doesn’t matter in what business you are.

Rob has told you he doesn’t pay the V.A.T. because his overall earnings during the year, do not exceed the threshold where he would be obliged to pay V.A.T. As he has told you, he is a one man band so he cannot humanly work so many cases to go beyond the threshold that would require him to pay V.A.T.

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

WaveChange, I agree with your sentiment but not with your economics. At the same time your post …..has made me agree with Maria for the first time .

Most of the people who die intestate have been hard working members of society. For reasons unknown to us they leave large pots of money up in the air. In most cases these people have been helped thru the years by their relatives and vice-versa. Its called family …….. and for family not to get most if not all of the inheritance is cruel and unusual punishment. You can thank the Heir Hunter industry for this denial of family. People in the industry right in this article continually say they will cut out family people who do not want to pay the high fees of the industry.

Let’s not forget that many of the intestate deceased have had the good fortune of receiving monies thru regular wills from family members in the past. I say keep the monies in the family’s not the government or the industry.

WCN

WCN – I’m glad I have helped you and Maria find something in common, and if I am despised by others involved in heir hunting then I will have achieved some much needed mutual respect.

Many people in the UK are having serious financial problems at present and increased taxation might not be the best answer. Money from those who die intestate could offer a lot of help. If someone suspects that a relation might leave them money, surely it is reasonable to expect them to keep in touch. Anyway, these are my thoughts and I thought it might be interesting to throw in a completely different point of view.

What training is needed to set up in business as a heir hunter and how is the business regulated? I’m sorry if the answer has been given, but I only started to look at this topic when Maria started posting lots of comments at a time when I had learned of three people dying in quick succession.

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

Great post WaveChange, I like your candor. More taxation sound’s easy doesn’t it. What happens when everyone gives up because of the high tax’s. I believe in families helping families and neighbors helping neighbors and government only helping to get society running on a sustainable basis. B

Many of the intestate wills already go to the government …….. I am sure they are all swallowed up in the misuse of general revenues. You do make a good point, that they should be directly diverted to the people having trouble making ends meet.

Sorry to hear of your 3 family members, and wish you the best again in the future.

Maria says:
11 December 2013

Wind,

Intestate wills ???

Very funny ! you are again showing a great deal of ignorance. For your information Intestate is when someone dies WITHOUT leaving a will. a lot of people must be laughing about this.

I had another laugh when you wrongly thought that Dave´s case was an exact replica of your case, remember ? when you sat on your hands and the money came to you like manna from the sky ? and you were pretending to be an expert in trying to advice him as if you know it all, when at every turn you show how ignorant you continue to be. You could do well with watching the Heir Hunters on BBC 1, at 9:15 A.M. and illuminate yourself a little bit more. The T.V. program was done to educate the public about this business, it was made for people like you.

Maria says:
11 December 2013

The trouble is that a lot of people do not know they are related to the deceased, many do not even know they had this relative and are glad to know this, most people are more grateful to know the truth and be re-united with a relative they knew nothing about than the money they are going to get. But there are also grabby people out there who are more interested in the money that comes from the sky, than knowing more about their own family member who died intestate.

So ” Heir Hunters ” do provide a service in this way too, reuniting families and it is very rewarding for us to unveil mysteries, and further make their relatives understand what happened and why the family became estranged, it helps them understand better and it brings a closure.

WindyCityNorth says:
11 December 2013

Maria, I am not surprised you find this a comedy act. Perhaps the slings and arrows that the industry wields is fun to you … its not to the rest of us. The constant chatter about the great BBC and its unrealistic show is strange. Do you work for them?

Intestate will ? Intestate/will ? Intestate death ? Intestate , forgot to write a will ? Intestate no one can find my will ? Intestate someone burned my will. Intestate the lawyer with the Heir -Hunters in his back pocket lost my will ? I could go on and on .. but it reminds me of all the old probate records in the UK where the solicitor is named the benefactor in many many wills. How does that happen. Sounds like a new article for this publisher. DO SOLICITORS INHERIT MORE THAN THEY SHOULD ?
WCN

WindyCityNorth says:
11 December 2013

The industry is bring closure ……. o’boy….. so costly that they bereave twice, once for the relative and the second for there bank account !

NO qualifications are required and there is no regulation other than we have to follow the laws regarding probate and intestacy. The majority of us are law abiding and do the job to the best of our ability however there are one or two shall we say scammers out there and thankfully they are being caught, prosecuted and punished.

Michaela says:
8 December 2013

WIndyCityNorth , you must be leaving something out, since you’d otherwise be saying that the UK has no proper procedures in place for heirs to claim money and they’ll just take the chance and mail a check to someone of the same name. I don’t expect the UK courts to be so backwards.

I suspect that you may have had a close relative involved in the estate, who gave out the proper info and was able to get your documentation.

An agency presiding over estates, has the responsibility to find the proper heir and ONLY the proper heir(s). Whether in the UK or in the States. Sure, the procedures may vary, but the end is the same: Only the correct person (with proof) can receive their share. So, someone must have provided proof on your behalf.

You continually write that they HAVE to find everyone. That is not correct. They have to make a good effort to find everyone. If they don’t find everyone, the case will be closed without and whatever procedure is in place for that will be followed. The funds may be held somewhere for a certain amount of time or they may escheat to the state/country. Don’t know proper protocol for the UK on that. They can not leave files open indefinitely .

And there are always heirs that aren’t known or can’t be found. I have come across many decedents in the U.S., who originally came from other countries and who changed their names upon arrival. Sometimes just a few letters, sometimes a completely different name (as many Jewish people did, when they came in the 40’s, so that they wouldn’t be seen as Jewish). I only see that, because I’m tracing it backwards. I bet a good number of those were legal heirs in some relative’s estate and nobody found them.

So, just because you may have received your check (and only if someone included you and provided proper proof on your behalf), but it’s very short sighted to think that that is the way it normally goes.

Maria says:
9 December 2013

Micaela, Windy City North is not going to reply to you because she has left a lot out in her story. No one here for a moment believes her tale that she just sat there and the check simply came to her from the Treasury without someone else proving who he or she is and her address. Windy City North comments are simply… Wind.

WindyCityNorth says:
9 December 2013

Again this article on ” Are Heir-Hunters cheating us out of our inheritance ?” has been taken over by the industry it is examining. The industry rightfully is protecting itself from the people it is trying to make money off of. I would do the same.

I am not here to make money … I don’t have an ulterior motive to cash in on the unsuspecting.

Again, if an Heir Hunter calls you DO NOT SIGN … take some time to investigate on your own.
If you must ….. negotiate with them they will lower the percentage paid. Most would rather get %10 rather than nothing. The higher the estate cash amounts are the lower you can go with the percentage. Let’s face it .. some cash amounts are so low it doesn’t really matter and who gives a *** **** anyways .

Some of the industry posters agree with many of my points… one such is not having to sign and getting paid anyways. This is the critical point that gets the industry Heir- Hunters extremely mad.

I hope that this post meets all guidelines.

WCN

Maria says:
9 December 2013

Windy, this thread is TWO years old and during that time it seems is only you, who has been harping about a business that you are ignorant about and by the looks of it, you remain ignorant.

In the meantime, we keep receiving contracts signed from heirs who are happy with the agreement conditions as well as letters thanking us afterwards when they have received their unexpected windfall.

You were approached by a firm of genealogists because your relative didn’t leave you any money in his/her will and if I had been your relative, I would not have left you a penny in my will either, I would have much preferred that my money went to the Treasury.

Maria says:
9 December 2013

Every case is different. You cannot say every Heir Hunter company has to charge 10% especially if the heirs have to be located in two different countries, this means that another two agencies will have to collaborate and the three will have to share in the same 10% as you are suggesting here and that means everyone will be working at a loss. This is a business not a charity.

Maria says:
10 December 2013

The heading of the Which ? Magazine is misleading as any attorney will tell you, you cannot be cheated out of something you haven’t got.

Yes,’cheat’ is the wrong word.

Better to say ‘Guilty on 10 counts of Fraud by False Representation contrary to Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006’

Maria says:
10 December 2013

Dave that is not the company I work for, but this article is misleading because it has tried unsuccessfully to tarnish everyone who is in this business, as though we are all the same and charge huge amounts of money.

Dave when you first sent me this article to me, your article was saying that the said company was charging 80%, now you say it was 40% which is still high. The company I work for, the highest percentage is 25% + V.A.T. But ONLY when the heirs have to be found abroad and another company has to take over, to find the heirs outside the U.K. So what I’m saying to you is.. that we normally charge LESS than 25% + VAT when the case is in the U.K. and doesn’t come from abroad.

The heirs involved in this court case should have signed with Fraser & Fraser’s as their commission was lower than the 40 % at only 25% + VAT, As I said before, I advice people to choose a company that has been in business for many years. Fraser’s is one of the oldest companies in this business, had they sign with them, they wouldn’t be in court suing this Scottish that I have never even heard of before.

Maria

The contractual amounts was 40% + VAT. plus expenses. When the final offer materialised it was over 70% in total they were taking.

I do not think the article tarnishes everyone, but does highlight that they are rogues in the industry. Yes, there are rogues in many industries, but that doesn’t make it OK. One person being ripped off is one too many.

We could not go to another company. The heir hunters were commissioned by a solicitor. We were not told the solicitor, nor any other information, and we were naively unaware at the time that 40% was not the ‘going’ rate.

Maria says:
10 December 2013

Dear Dave,

I’m sorry to hear that this has happened to you. You will find that with the reputable companies, the expenses are included in the percentage too, not separately as you were charged, and I agree with you that 40% plus expenses was was way too high.

Usually, when our company is commissioned by a solicitor, we charge a fixed rate and then we provide all the information to the solicitor ( like the family tree and the heirs addresses ) and then it is the solicitor who contacts the heirs directly. If the case goes abroad, then we can’t do it on a fixed fee but we still give all the information to the solicitor so that he can do the administration for the heirs.

Keep us posted about the outcome of your case. I personally had never heard of this company before and I was unaware about his case until you kindly sent me the article. I wish you well Dave and I hope despite all this experience, you do manage to have a Merry Christmas and a pleasant New Year.

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

Maria are you saying you can’t make money at %10 of a million. Are you still losing after a commission of a 100,000. Tough business, duh.

WCN

Bit of a problem on that. The relative that died was an aunt, given away at birth. My grandparents never told their sons they had a sister, She did not know she had brothers. We were given no name at the time the heir hunters came. Even Google’s not that good.

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

Dave, two points here. First is that the economic world works on offers and counteroffers. You always counter offer ….. if you had read these posts b4 you signed al least you would have gotten a better deal with a counter offer. If they refuse and your the only relative they get nothing … so they will lower their prices.

Secondly, I have been doing extensive genealogy. The problem with closed adoptions and secrecy should be a thing of the past but it’s not. People’s family lives are ruined by these archaic practices. The question to be asked and maybe you asked it is …… how did the genealogist search down the fact your relation died. I am assuming they pulled the birth cert. and then looked for more family members. This is a good example of an Heir Hunter being of great value, but not %40 worth. You referred to them charging another %30 …. could that have been the lawyer/adminstrater fees ?
Yours is a sad story all the way around my friend..

WCN

As you note, hindsight is a great teacher. To be honest, when I signed, I thought they had the wrong person, the lack of information given, seemingly meaning questions and believing I knew that no moderately close relative had died. Add to that, having no frame of reference in which to judge the contract etc…. Yep, If I knew then, what I know now.

A lot later, when we finally met the estate solicitor, we found out he had passed on the birth certificate, grandparents clearly named. It must have been a walk in the park for the Heir Hunter to find us.

The addition cost was £35,000 of expenses (I kid you not). For example, To come down from Edinburgh, visit me and my sisters, spend 2 night in a hotel, the expense charge was over £9000 ( They were charging their time out at £100 / hour, 65 p mile fuel etc…)

WindyCityNorth says:
11 December 2013

Dave, it is difficult to reply to your message as it is a very sad situation for you and your family.

Keep spreading the word and since you are in Edinburgh we may be related. I would like to say more but these industry hounds are trying to track me down.

The only way to have sidestepped your troubles was to go to the published list of intestate deaths and search the ones in your area first. This would be a long drawn out process .. but you may have got lucky. It would have cost you hundreds if not thousands. This is one case where they had you over a barrel and they knew it. As you say it was a walk in the park. Most case’s are not this hard to do your self.

Now, you say the solicitor handed over the birth certificate to get the ball rolling. I would like to ask pedanticus if these solicitors have backdoor agreements with Heir – Hunters. You grease my hand and i’ll grease yours type of thing. Or is it all the same company.

Dave can you tell me if their was an administrator of the will. From what I understand of Scotland there must be one appointed. If you don’t know …. call the solicitor and find out.

Lastly I would go to a government ombudsman or lawyers association or your member of parliament to complain about this.

All for now
WCN

The estate was not published. The solicitor involved was the deceased’s solicitor who was considering handed the estate to the crown, but thought he try a genealogy firm. I believe he chose the company from an advert in the Scottish law society magazine, so it was bad luck he chose who he chose.

When we were ‘found’ my sister was nominated as executor of the estate.

As for ongoing, the court is still attempting to retrieve the compensation, following that we may have to go to the civil court in an attempt to recover assets. As an act of fraud has been committed, limited company liability protection does not necessary apply so we can seize personal assets of company officers or anyone that may have been associated in gaining from the fraudulent activities of the company.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

WindyCN, when you say above ” and you are the only relative they meaning (Heir researchers) do not get anything ” but neither does Dave.

He should have haggled with them to bring their percentage down but he didn’t know it at the time that the going rate is 25% + VAT. not 40% + VAT plus expenses and as he says now, on hindsight he should have done that but perhaps he can still do it and avoid a very expensive civil court case.

WCN you are still harking on at the same points I see and a name change as well. You fail again and again to forget to mention that any heir who doesnt sign with a heir hunter will have to provide all the documentation to prove their connection before they get paid. This will cost them and as they like us do not know the value of the estate prior to a claim being made they could well be paying more than they will receive.

It is apparent this is a very controversial subject. I have seen this programme on TV and whilst I don’t have a problem with inheritance being passed on to heirs if they deserve it, I have found it quite sad and very upsetting to witness mostly elderly people living alone and dying intestate. Maybe it was their choice to cut themselves off but the very act of making a will would indicate they have loved ones somewhere who care enough to be able to benefit upon their passing. Instead of the money going to The Treasury the government could donate it to charity which would then do away with the need for the ‘Hunters.’

We have just seen an extremely altruistic example of a young teenager who has raised over £3.5 million pounds for teenage cancer research before his untimely death. His ‘inheritance’ at least will be put to good use and at the same time he has restored my faith in human nature. For this reason I have to refrain from any further comment on this subject.

Mark says:
18 March 2015

hi guys just been reading some of the comments on this post and I thought I would just say this.
if I was traced by a hunter in the uk that would mean I may be entitled to an undisclosed amount without them intervening I would probably have never known what I was entitled too.

as I would not be aware that I was an heir as long as I was told upfront what I was expected to pay them for there services upfront then I would be happy being careful not to go down the percentage route as if a large estate would cost me lots more I suppose I am just selfish.

once I have been contacted I can ask who the deceased is what relation am I to them etc etc if I then decide to sign fine or I have the choice to submit my own claim and this would incur use of my time.

regarding V.A.T. in the uk this is a tax that requires to be paid to the government once your earnings exceed a certain threshold whether you are a hunter, milkman, shopkeeper, builder etc
I really don’t get what is so hard to understand about this process and believe that although I am an uneducated fool that you guys are educated and wasting your time going over the same points with some of the parties in the conversation not taking in what is being explained (scratching my head lol ) play nice Mark

The confusion about VAT in these posts seems to be because of the way it is charged by business trying to hide the true cost of their services. It is a turnover tax on business whose turnover exceed a certain amount. Businesses are not even allowed to quote it as an extra, but many do in order to hide the true cost of services.

No one can avoid paying the penalty on whatever the transaction. However another business that is registered for the tax can claim back any VAT it has been charged on its turnover against that tax it pays on its turnover. A registered business has to ask for special VAT invoices for its supplies, and it uses these for its claims for reduction in its “output tax”. The proprietors of a business cannot claim back the tax penalty on buying goods or services for their own use. For example, if one of the directors gets a firm of solicitors to write a will for them, they cannot claim back the VAT penalty on that activity through their business.

The government is against people using the “+VAT” scam to try and hide the true cost of something from retail customers. It is just as easy to say that an Heir Hunter service costs 30% as 25%+VAT, and that is what the government expect them to do. Not one user of this service would legitimately be able to claim the VAT back against a business account. To do so would be to commit fraud, and as the sum of tax involved would be very large could result in serious punishment.

I used to work many of these cases as the solicitor for the executor working in tandem with a firm of genealogists and although in theory WCN is correct, I get the feeling he would have been one of the untraceable heirs whose share was returned to the TS. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect genealogists to put themselves out to tell me they’ve traced someone doesn’t want to contribute to the cost of the whole operation. So Windy I reckon you have been extremely fortunate to have benefited by sitting on your hands.

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

Wrong again my friend. You are right in the sense that every case is different. Are you in the industry. If the answer is yes than I believe you have a conflict of interest !

WCN

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

Pedanticus, when you say you worked in tandem with the genealogist. What does that mean? As a solicitor did you not have control of the estate and genealogists combined. Tandem means equal power in my book.
WCN

You have hit the nail on the head, WCN: I received information from the genealogists but I could not be said to control them. If they told me WCN had not been traced, your share was on its way back to the TS and you would have had a long wait.

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

pedanticus, very interesting indeed. Tell a few more things … the administrater/executer is responsible for the efficient and distribution of funds . She/he is responsible by law to distribute the wealth fairly. Where in your experience does this person fit in to this power triad.

Secondly if I called you and said I am on the list (and proved it) and I am not on the Heir-Hunters list what would you do. Add me or ignore me.

If I did the same with the administrater would she/he add me or ignore me.

Now if this happened to quite a few people would their be lawsuits flying against somebody?

Thanks for any insight.
WCN

I represent the executor. If you are entitled you would be on the genealogists’ list. If, however, I am told you have not been traced, the executor would be told the same thing and your share would go back to the TS. If you contacted me and proved your entitlement before your share was returned to the TS, you would receive the share due to you. Otherwise I would direct you to the TS and you would have to prove your entitlement to him. In summary, yes you would receive 100% of your entitlement, but (unless the genealogist is feeling generous and gives me your details) you wouldn’t get it by sitting on your hands waiting for it to arrive. At the very least you are going to have to contact the TS to find out who is the solicitor for the executor and then you are going to have to prove your entitlement by producing all the BDM certificates linking you to the deceased.

WindyCityNorth says:
11 December 2013

Thank-you for answering in an easy to understand and concise way. Might I also say in a truthful way as I knew this process already. It is good to get this info out to the right people.

The only part I am having trouble with is that the Heir Hunter can delete or add anyone they please. If the list is not complete and the executer disagrees with the list what happens? The executer is in a sticky situation if this list is not complete with all heirs and not just the ones picked by the Heir-Hunter because they got paid. Many executers know the family and if they were wise they would tell at least the closest relatives not to sign. In fact I know this happens.

Now, I am not a lawyer …………from my research it appears that the executer or Heir-Hunter has not followed the law if they knowingly leave someone out for not paying. This is deception and fraud in any jurisdiction. It is grand larceny by Heir Hunters . I am sure their are some case studys of this as it appears to have been going on for a longtime.

WCN

I don’t think you would be omitted from the list (or family tree) but it might be possible for the genealogist to forget to tell me he’d traced you and you hadn’t signed. I’m not saying that would happen, but it’s a possibility, don’t you think? Of course if the executor knew you, he would supply the information, but it is by no means certain that he would know you – distribution is quite often at the level of second cousin and beyond and beneficiaries can be spread around the globe, so he might well not know you or, even if he knows of your existence, he might well not have contact details for you.

Maria says:
15 December 2013

Windy City North has not told us the full story and she sometimes she says that she received 100% of her inheritance whilst in other posts, she says that the Probate Researchers are still trying to find her.

If she already got her inheritance, then NO Probate Researchers are trying to find her since we don’t deal with cases that have already been paid out.

Maria says:
10 December 2013

Forgot to mention, the 3 companies who appear on the BBC programme Heir Hunters have been in business over 40 years. The Heir Hunter programme is running repeats right now on BBC 1 at 9:15 every morning, The show is on its 8th year running now, and is highly respected and was nominated last year for an award. This year Finders will do their debut on the show, so I’m looking forward to see them there and perhaps you can illuminate yourself more about how the business works.

WindyCityNorth says:
10 December 2013

I keep getting emails on this subject …. I wish the industry would stop crowing how great they are.

WCN

Perhaps it is time to think about making a will. Which has useful advice: http://www.which.co.uk/money/retirement/guides/writing-a-will/how-to-make-a-will/

Maria says:
12 December 2013

I agree with you, everyone should make a will, this way the money won´t go to the Treasury and then end up in the hands of relatives you don´t even know of,,or have never even heard of and if you do not like any of your relatives, Leave your money to the RSPCA or any charity of your liking.

I know the case of a billionaire, who gave instructions in his will to summon all his relatives and once they were all congregated in his mansion to hear the terms of his will, they all had to watch how all his money was piled up and how all his millions were burned leaving nothing.

While I fully support the advice to make a will, because it makes everything so much easier and more certain [however dissatisfying it might be in some cases], not to make a will can be a rational decision as much as deciding to make one. It might seem odd or perverse but some people feel quite comfortable with that. We have sensible intestacy rules in the UK so the estate does not necessarily end up with the Treasury. Only the bona vacantia estates pass to the Crown for administration by the Treasury Solicitor. They are estates where there is no known kin. Where known kin exist, there is usually a “natural” or obvious personal representative and that person makes an application for letters of administration. If there are conflicting claims to be appointed the personal reprersentative, the court determines and makes the appointment, granting letters of administration to that person [as the administrator]. From that point onwards the administrator has authority to deal with the estate in accordance with the intestacy rules [as to entitlements] and as they consider best for the overall benefit of the estate, and they are responsible for gathering the assets and distributing the proceeds accordingly. They are expected, but not obliged, to take account of any known or declared personal wishes of the deceased but their hands are no so tied as those of an executor dealing with a valid will.

The Treasury Solicitor’s office does not get involved where (a) there is a valid will [even if the executor and any beneficiaries cannot be traced], (b) there are entitled relatives [even if these have subsequently died], and (c) the estate has liabilities which exceed its assets or has a very low value [<£500]. I reckon most intestacies are kept out of the hands of the Treasury Solicitor because (b) applies.

The problem with heir-hunting is that it starts from a position of ignorance [the value of the estate], it is speculative and is generally seen as parasytic and predatory, and it can bring out the worst in people. The trade is unregulated and unqualified except by experience, and is fiercely competitive giving rise to a culture of subterfuge, secrecy, and distrust. As hinted at here and there in the thread of this Conversation, there are concerns about integrity, honesty, fair dealing, excessive charging, and competence. Having said that, there are several reputable practitioners and companies which are diligent, conscientious and fair. Nevertheless. it has to be understood that the fees from successful cases have to cross-fund the work done on the ones that go nowhere or involve huge amounts of work for little return. Nobody has to sign up with an heir-hunter but it takes a determined mind – and a total rejection of any curiosity, or the disposition towards a windfall – to pass up the opportunity once the potential but unknown inheritance has been dangled before their eyes.

Personally, I think the estates of those who die both intestate and with no known kin should continue to pass to the Crown for the benefit of the country at large. Note that this does not include all intestacies – only those with no known kin. I think this distinction has got lost over the course of this Conversation and instead of the situation being made clearer for consumers it has become somewhat muddied.

As this all clearly demonstrates, its best to make a will if you can.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

John Ward, when you say : ” I think the estates of those who die both intestate and with no known kin should continue to pass to the Crown for the benefit of the country at large ” Well, in that case all the intestacies coming from Cornwall shouldn’t go directly to the Prince of Wales nor any intestacies in Lancaster shouldn’t go directly to the Queen for the benefit of the country at large.

Maria says:
26 June 2014

John Ward,

Queen Elizabeth owns 2,467 million acres in Canada, 1,900 million acres in Australia, 114, million acres Papua Guinea and 66 Million acres in New Zealand. Why do you think the Queen should have more money ? If she really wanted to help her people she should sell some land… such an easy solution.

In the United Kingdom, the term ‘The Crown’ means the realm, not the monarch. It is used to elevate certain functions above the interference of politics and give them constitutional authority [as in ‘The Crown Prosecution Service’].

Michaela says:
12 December 2013

John Ward, excellent post, especially this:
“it has to be understood that the fees from successful cases have to cross-fund the work done on the ones that go nowhere or involve huge amounts of work for little return.”

The above is something that some of the people in these comments don’t seem to understand. Overall it is a business for us heir hunters and we have to be profitable for us to be spending our time on it. People can not just look at the successful caes and insist that it was only a few hours of work and thus our percentage is not justified.

But, unfortunately, some people aren’t able to comprehend the bigger picture

If there were regulation, rules on fees etc. then there would no harm in publishing estate values and then businesses would able to regulate their profits.

Yes, you may be right but I am afraid the industry itself has not done itself any favours and has only itself to blame if potential beneficiaries – who might never have encountered the business before and had no prior knowledge of their possible inheritance – cannot comprehend the bigger picture. Doing unremunerative work goes with the territory and heir-hunters should, to some extent, stop moaning about it; speculators [which is what you are] cannot expect to stay in profit indefinitely – some might have to resign their vocation, especially to save themselves from some of the temptations illustrated in all the foregoing.

Michaela

I will agree that John’s post is excellent, for one reason because it offers a balanced approach.

If someone has a major problem with their house or car they will ask for an estimate if they have any sense and may make a non-refundable payment for this estimate. It may seem fine to the heir hunters to have substantial cross-subsidy of cases, but that is not fair for the beneficiaries.

Would you be happy to foot a major bill if the ominous noise produced by your car engine turned out to be a simple fault that could be fixed in minutes?

Dave has mentioned regulation. I asked about regulation before and no-one responded. I am beginning to fear the worst.

Maria says:
12 December 2013

John, when you say: ” that the industry itself has not done itself any favours ” I can tell you that the Heir Hunters have tried very hard to do what they can and even going to the extent of appearing on T.V. with live cases, so that the public can understand exactly how it all works, having the most reputable companies being filmed working on cases as things develop but unfortunately there are amateurs mushrooming all over the place in this business thinking that this is a Get Rich Quick sort of business just like the case highlighted here, where the heir was contracted for 40% + expenses. We really do not know when and where these cowboys will suddenly appear. Anyone can watch the T.V. programme on BBC 1 at 9:15 A.M. or… on I- player if you live in the U.K.

Maria says:
12 December 2013

Wave Change, I think you have a valid point. I think it is unfair that the failure of not solving some cases has to be passed on the successful ones. We don’t do this in our company we work on a case by case situation. If the case is in the U.K., the percentage is always lower as there is a fierce competition out there. On the foreign cases, usually a second company has to collaborate to find the heirs abroad so in that case a 25% fee has to be charged so that both companies can make a profit, otherwise it is not worth working on a loss.

Maria says:
26 June 2014

Dave,

The reason for not publishing the values of the estates has nothing to do with the heir hunters, the real reason for not publishing them is because members of the public, ( crooks ) were posing as beneficiaries in cases of high value and they succeeded in getting houses which they later sold at a big profit, but the crooks were found out by a solicitor contracted by one of the heir hunter firms, the police was called in to investigate and the crooks are now serving time in jail, you could say thanks to the heir hunter firm, so the Treasury Solicitor on learning what had happened, they took the drastic step of simply not publishing the value of all the cases. I hope this is clear now.

Dave, I’m sorry if my previous post seemed to be addressed to you but it was in response to Michaela – it’s difficult on this site to keep everything in the right order.

The Treasury does not publish the values of bona vacantia estates primarily for the avoidance of fraudulent claims and the prevention of crime.

Michaela says:
12 December 2013

Wavechange, I work in the U.S. and I only work on estates that are closed. Where everyone else has given up on the estates and only heir hunters get involved or whatever heirs out there get nothing. So, obviously I can’t speak for details in the UK and what’s involved in estates where genealogists have been employed by a solicitor.

But even with my cases, a lot of times potential heirs of smaller estates tend to pick things apart and complain that I shouldn’t make 30% on a 15K estate, because I only worked potentially a few hours. They want to pick it apart and ask, how much are you paying to the attorney, how many hours did you work etc? I don’t have that with heirs of larger estates that I locate. They tend to be really appreciative that I got them something that they would have likely never found out about at all.

Yes, there are rogue people in this profession and those of us working ethically don’t like them either, because they give all of us a bad name. But what I see in these comments is concensus by those who are not ‘heir tracers’ that we’re all scammers and I have a problem with that. If we all stopped working tomorrow, there’d be a lot of potential heirs who’ll never find out about their inheritance

Thanks for the prompt reply, Michaela. I had not realised that you are in the US.

I am prepared to accept that there are responsible people in the industry but it is fairly obvious that work needs to be done to bring all those involved up to standard. I looked at the Heir Hunters Association website with the intention of finding out about regulation and complaints procedure, but it just seems to be a body to support members rather than reassure the general public that standards are in place. (I did find useful advice on how to identify scams on this site.)

I started looking at this Conversation when Maria started to leave comments on numerous old posts, and that started alarm bells ringing. If it is impractical to provide an estimate of likely costs then perhaps the answer is simply to charge by the hour.

Michaela says:
12 December 2013

Wavechange, I read Maria’s comments and I felt there was absolutely no cause for alarm bells. I felt that here is someone that is working in the trenches and knows what’s involved.

As to your comment of ‘working by the hour’ , I wouldn’t even consider it, because, as mentioned earlier, in order for this business to be profitable, we also have to cover the cases where we don’t get anything. I work on spec and don’t have a client, unless I find an heir. So, who would pay me for the hours that I spend on estates and never find anyone?

Over the years I’ve accumulated skills that allow me to make a good living on it. I work on cases, where professional people, that were paid by the hour by the estate, were not successful. So, I obviously must do it in a way that others don’t. That skill is worth something and I should have the right to charge accordingly. Otherwise the ‘potential heirs’ get nothing, because obviously nobody else has found them and they usually don’t even know the decedent.

Do you tell your dentist:’ well, this procedure only took you 2 hours and I think your time is worth $ 75/hour and therefore you should only bill me $ 150′? No, you accept that they have a skill/trade/knowledge and that your bill is not tied to the actual time that it took.

Maria says:
12 December 2013

Wavechange, this is the trouble, that it iss not only the Heir Hunter’s time, but the expenses incurred if you have staff working on cases where you don’t know if you are going to be successful or not. Only ONE out of TEN cases is successful but you still have to pay the staff, the telephone bills, the office rent, the light, traveling expenses, petrol, hotels etc. There are many expenses involved. It is not easy as people imagine.

Michaela – When I go to my dentist for a check-up I will walk out of the dental surgery with an estimate of the cost. Though this could be increased, I can never remember this happening, and I often end up paying a bit less because I’m doing a good job at keeping my teeth clean without having this done for me. With NHS dentists there is a standard scale of charges. I suspect that private dentists have more flexibility in charging, but every time I have used a private dentist, I have been given an estimate that has proved to be accurate. UK dentistry is regulated and there is a clear procedure to make a complaint about any dentist. Dentistry is generally a highly regarded profession in the UK, the university admission standards are among the highest for undergraduate courses. I don’t think the British Dental Association would be very happy if their members were to appear on a TV program intended to appeal to the public.

I think I will bow out and leave this Conversation, but make a final suggestion that it is up to heir hunters to get everyone operating professionally by imposing strict standards and regulation. Best of luck.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

Wave Change you are talking about apples and oranges. Heir Tracers is an speculative work, where we do not know: a) If the case is going to pay out or not, even if we find all the heirs. Suppose no one wants to sign our contract… then we put it aside and forget about it,
With a dentist you are contracting his services if you do not want to pay, then the dentist won’t do the work for you.

You may be interested to know that in Scotland the amount of the estate is published when the case is advertised by the QLTR ( =TS). I am not aware of fraud and scullduggery as a result – probably just means time is not wasted on worthless cases. Perhaps a lesson to be learned?

WindyCityNorth says:
14 December 2013

I agree with pedanticus … Scotland seems to be doing a much better job than the rest. England should revamp their practice’s and get into the 21st century.

WCN

Maria says:
15 December 2013

Pedanticus, Cases used to be advertised in England but the Treasury Solicitor stop publishing the values, when unscrupulous thieves were doing a scam and then, when the scam was discovered by a firm of Probate Researchers who alerted the police, the crooks ended up in jail. The whole story appears in one of Heir Hunter’s T.V. programmes.

WindyCityNorth says:
15 December 2013

So if it’s on TV …… it must be true ….. and if its on an Heir-Hunter’s show ….. it must be even truer and if the sheep are led to the slaughter by the industry its OK because it’s on TV …. !

FYI , some of Maria’s comments have been edited by the moderater/reader’s of this article, so fair warning.

Michaela says:
12 December 2013

Wavechange, look at it this way: As I mentioned, I work on estates that have been closed. These all have gone through various professional hands, who’ve tried and failed. So, the file is closed and has been given up on.

Would the heirs have been better off, if I wasn’t in this business and didn’t find them? Would they have been better off never knowing about these funds? Or are they better off by me having found them and having received 70%?

Why should anyone receive an unexpected windfall if they have to be searched for. John Ward expressed this very well: “Personally, I think the estates of those who die both intestate and with no known kin should continue to pass to the Crown for the benefit of the country at large. Note that this does not include all intestacies – only those with no known kin.”

I would like to see the money being used to provide better public services without the need to increase taxation. In the UK we have the National Health Service, which enables everyone free access to many aspects of healthcare.

The good thing about the way it works in the UK is that even for estates with no known kin the inheritance remains available [with the Treasury Solicitor] for anybody who can substantiate their entitlement to it. It even attracts interest for several years. They would need to prove their direct kinship and also that there was nobody alive higher up the order of entitlement; for this they might need the help of a genealogist who would do the investigation for a fee and to an agreed extent with no expectation of a payment related to the value of the estate.

Generally, you would expect those family members who were closely enough related to the deceased to be high up the order of entitlement to become aware of the death either directly or indirectly within a year or two. But people with surviving close relatives who have become estranged can die anywhere in the world, possibly from totally unpredictable causes, and without having made a will for whatever reason. The fact of their death might not become known for some time so it is important that there is a mechanism for the next of kin to claim any potential inheritance. It is not necessary for heir-hunters to become involved if the relative has discovered the death themselves

Heir-hunters have set themselves up to seek out those people who have not yet discovered that a relative has died leaving a bona vacantia estate, introduce to them the possibility of having a valid claim on the estate, do the research, and submit a claim for them. I question whether a good society should have such a process.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

Wave Change, because we live in a democracy, not in a totalitarian estate like Cuba where the estate gets the whole lot and the relatives don’t get a thing. We have the National Lottery which amasses millions of pounds and that could go to fund the NHS instead of all of those littlle stupid projects where all the money is squandered.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

On your first paragraph let me correct you, the heirs do not know they are related even if they saw the treasury list. We have had cases where an heir has approached us saying that another heir tracer has approached them first and if we could do it for less but they have no idea who died because generally they don’t even know they were related to the deceased until they were told by the heir tracer who contacted them. this is information that was given to the potential heir which they would never have known. We always turn them down, a) we don’t know what estate they are talking about and b) that would be cheating the Heir Tracers who found them first, as the other firm has already invested and worked to find them.

Thank you Maria. I was dealing with the circumstance where somebody eventually discovers that a relative has died intestate and they might have an entitlement – I’m sure that happens quite a lot. The published list seems to be major part of the problem [which I have commented on below]. There is a conflict between the rights of the Crown [which are fought for tooth and nail by the Treasury Solicitor’s office] and the rights of the individual in a democracy. My view is that the Crown should release more information.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

John Ward,

In France and in Germany if a potential heir has been contacted by an Heir Hunter firm and some heirs sign the contract whilst other heirs do not, then the ones who have not signed thinking that they can get it themselves without having to pay the Heir tracer using the information that they have been told by the relatives who did signed, are made, by law to pay the Heir Hunters fees, whether they have signed the contract or not, since they are benefiting from information that they otherwise didn’t know before, until the Heir tracer came into the picture. I think it is high time we should have this law implemented here in the U.K.

I expect a high degree of supervision and regulation accompanies those laws in Germany and France. I don’t think the circumstances in the UK are conducive to that approach at present. Such a procedure must require an independent auditing function if only to make sure that the estates are distributed correctly, that no beneficiary receives a legacy without having paid a fee, and that every beneficiary has their percentage of the fee deducted from the payment eventually made. I would support such an arrangement if the UK were to change the law but, as I have said before, my preference is to let all bona vacantia estates pass to the Crown absolutely.

WindyCityNorth says:
15 December 2013

Windfall’s are when you win the lottery …. not inheriting your relatives hard earned and saved money. Don’t forget to accumulate money you must pay many tax’s to the government before you see any of it.

Responding to my comment [to Michaela] that the heir-hunter business was to some extent itself responsible for the failure of people to grasp the bigger picture, Maria mentioned the UK television programe called “Heir Hunters” as an example of how the most reputable practitioners were trying to present the process so that the public can understand exactly how it all works, and this indeed is so. I was not aware of this programme for a long time but I caught it one morning while waiting in the hairdresser’s and I watched another complete episode at home. As a TV programme it’s not really my cup of tea so I haven’t followed it any further. For all its noble intentions, for me it does not put the business in a good light. Unfortunately it shares the morning TV slot with such other “get rich quick”-type programmes as “Cash in the Attic” and “Homes Under the Hammer”.

Maria rightly bemoans the entry into her occupation of “amateurs” and “cowboys” who see it as an opportunity to make a lot of money out of other people’s ignorance, but that is partly because we are a covetous society. The TV programme appeals to this “barrow-boy” mentality we have in Britain and falls clearly into the “entertainment” category in the schedules.

The absence of any official regulation is a major drawback but I can’t see that changing in the forseeable future so the good heir-hunters must suffer their disreputable colleagues until they can drive them out of business through superlative good practice, but herein lies the rub: nobody chooses an heir-hunter as they would a dentist or car mechanic; they come to you. They go through the lists of bona vacantia estates and see if they can pick some out where there will be some gleanings which, in doing somebody else some good, will also make some money for themselves. Because all their competitors are also onto it, to be successful they have to get in first with a potential beneficiary and jealously guard any relevant information they acquire through their investigations. Signing them up quickly is crucial as the gannets are wheeling around. One of my concerns is whether the potential client is being given the right information, and enough time in which to make a decision, or whether they are being enticed into signing up with the first heir-hunter that rings their doorbell unaware of any alternatives. Keeping the name of the deceased secret is obviously an essential but highly unsatisfactory aspect of the introductory process. Pedanticus mentioned earlier that in Scotland the value of each bona vacantia estate is declared without risk of fraudulent or criminal consequences; assuming the Scottish system to have the same basic process as in England & Wales [I am not sure if it does as I have not looked at it] then I think it would be a good thing to move in that direction. It would certainly improve the level of knowledge available to potential beneficiaries enabling some perhaps to do their own claims work, and it would reduce the amount of unremunerative heir-hunter work, take some of the pressure off the activity, and make it more worthwhile for the best practitioners without having to make bigger than necessary profits from some cases in order to cover their losses on others.

Whereas I agree that the TV programmes have demonstrated the good side of the business and have improved the level of public knowledge about otherwise unowned assets and how companies can unite people with their unknown inheritance, I think it also reveals the weaknesses in the system but hasn’t done much to remedy them.

Michaela asks the rhetorical question, “Would the heirs have been better off, if I wasn’t in this business and didn’t find them?” I suppose, from where I’m coming from, it is the wrong question. I say: Would they be any worse off? And I suspect the answer would usually be: No but the country would be better off in more ways than purely financially. I endorse Wavechange’s summary: Why should anyone receive an unexpected windfall if they have to be searched for? And I would add: Why do speculators think they should be able to transfer the risk and their losses to their other clients?

Maria says:
13 December 2013

John Ward
The morning slot for the programme Heir Hunters was given an evening slot as well as a morning slot plus an afternoon slot on the BBC.schedules and it is not reflective of the other morning shows. Top Gear is pure entertainment but it is in the evening slot whilst ” Heir Hunters ” is informative.

The reason why the Treasury Solicitor took the value off the estates that they advertise, is clearly explained in one of the Heir Hunter’s T.V. programmes and it is too long to explain it here. The Treasury Solicitor has also appeared on the Heir Hunter’s T.V. programme as well, so the public can get a better picture of what they do, and how they work..

I think we must praise the BBC for providing such a useful programme and thank the heir-hunting business and the Treasury Solicitor for shining so much light into the dark corners of inheritance. Sadly, as Michaela confirmed above, despite of all this factual publicity a lot of people just cannot see the bigger picture and realise that the work up blind alleys has to be funded from the successful cases.

Although I think all bona vacantia estates should revert to the Crown absolutely, believe it or not I am not hostile to honourable heir-hunting given that we have such a system. I just wish the whole business was regulated. There is no doubt that a lot of people have been made very happy as a result of the labours of heir-hunters, even if all they got out of it was a proper family tree. Some people have been able to inherit a really useful sum that might have changed their lives for the better and I don’t think anybody has been made worse off as a result [unlike the victims of certain other unseemly commercial enterprises].

The word “profession” has been used from time to time in this Conversation. At present, I do not think that is an appropriate description. As I understand it, a profession is a regulated practice, usually legitimised by an act of Parliament or at least properly incorporated under a Charter and subject to the authority of the Court. In return it has the privilege of being authorised to regulate itself with qualifications, standards and codes of practice, supervision and registration of practitioners, and powers of admission, discipline and expulsion. I think there is a long way to go yet before those conditions prevail.

I suppose the leading companies in the business thought long and hard before they settled on the name “heir-hunter” as a generic description and probably chose it for the want of anything better. To me it encapsulates the rapacious side of the business. Personally I think it would be a good idea for the leading firms to distance themselves from that interpretation and come up with a more agreeable title and copyright it in such a way that the “amateurs” and “cowboys” cannot apply it to themselves. Although I have to accept that, so long as anyone, however unethical, can have a crack at the Treasury listings, it’s probably pointless.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

John Ward, On your last paragraph where you say: ” that the leading companies thought long and hard before they settled on the name ” Heir Hunter as a generic description and probably chose it for the want of anything better ” In fact we hate that term heir hunters. We call ourselves Probate Researchers and this term Heir Hunters was chosen by the producers of the T.V. series programme to be eye catching for the viewers, as no one out there, was going to watch a T.V. programme called: Probate Researchers. It wasn’t us who chose the term “Heir Hunters” The term heir hunters is no better than calling psychiatrists ” shrinks ” or lawyers being called: “Ambulance chasers ” it is a derogatory name, and I don’t think a psychiatrist would join an association called: The Shrink Association nor a lawyer would consider joining an association called: The Ambulance Chasers Association and this new ” Heir Hunter Association ” is new and has nothing to do with us, they are using that name in order to capitalize on the T.V. programme and a lot of the advice given by them is misleading and also causing a lot of problems they are as I said new. erroneously a lot of people are looking at it and thinking it has something to do with us or the T.V. programme, they don’t.

Thanks for that clarification Maria. “Probate Researchers” sounds much more suitable. I’m surprised the reputable part of the industry went along with the name “Heir Hunter” for the TV show – I must admit I’d never heard the term “Probate Researcher” before. The programme didn’t have to be called “Heir Hunters” to make it appealing, though. “Relative Values” or “Your Lucky Bequest” might have drawn them in in droves. I shall use the more orthodox term in future. Only good regulatiion will knock out the dodgy types.

Maria says:
14 December 2013

John Ward, you will see that the case managers on the show say Probate Researchers and I think the reason why no one has thought about regulation is because you cannot charge a standard fee on all cases especially if these cases come from abroad, when another U.S. firm of Probate Researchers has asked us to trace relatives in the U.K. in that instance, then two companies have to collaborate and share in the same case,so that percentage has to be higher. There have been people here who are talking about a 10% fee across the board, of course, these are people who are completely ignorant about this business but perhaps the next step would be to have an Act of Parliament to give us a status and recognize that it is a profession all but in name.

Also, you will find that when you are collaborating with a T.V. company they call the shots. You can disagree about something and there can be a discussion but in the end their point of view as experts in their own field, you have to accept it, don’t forget that the BBC is also competing against other channels for viewers so they have chosen that title to make sure viewers see a profession that very little people know about. Obviously, they don’t want to produce a programme that no one will watch, only because the title is not appealing enough to the public, If the programme is not watched, then the BBC will not do any more series of the programme. This is going to be our 8th year running with 15 episodes per programme, and it has already been commissioned by the BBC for next year as the number of viewers watching it is high. We even have followers who write to ask when will the next series will be shown, we refer them to the BBC because it is up to them when they will put it in their schedule. Many times we don’t know is on, until people in the street tell us that they have seen us on T.V.

Regulation would not necesarily control the level of fees – private doctors and dentists are regulated but they can charge what they and the patient agree. It is obviously impractical to set a fee for probate research as it resembles the legendary piece of string; it’s far more complicated than genealogical research – which can often be done from a desk – and, as you say, can involve foreign jurisdictions. Even estimates would have to have a wide contingency margin. People are always saying “the fees wiped out the gains” [eg compensation cases]; they never do of course, but the feeling lingers. If people discover that they are the beneficiary of £1000 from an estate they think they should get £1000; it doesn’t occur to them that if there had been a will and the executors had had to identify all the assets, settled all the liabilities, got rid of all the rubbish and reduced everything else to cash, cleared the property and then sold it, their expenses would have totalled several thousands of pounds and maybe for little nett value available for distribution. But that’s life and nobody signs up to probate research against their will I hope. The resultant nett value of a bona vacantia estate obviously follows the meeting of those costs by the personal representatives [or the public authorities in default] but because beneficiaries found later are unaware of them they don’t gripe about them.

On the question of the TV programme, you are obviously in the broadcaster’s hands. I hadn’t appreciated that the subject was so captivating. I suppose it follows the fascination with tracing our ancestors. No wonder unethical people are jumping on the bandwagon and effectively panning for gold in the Treasury Solicitor’s lists.

Maria says:
13 December 2013

My message above was for John Ward.

The message above has become completely misplaced. I’ve asked for it to be removed as it is now confusing but it remains I’m afraid.

Maria says:
14 December 2013

John Ward, you have made an excellent post ! What you are saying it’s true. We had a case where we had to spend our own money for a) Evict the squatters who had moved in the deceased property on the days before the new laws that make it easier to evict them, then we spent £7,000 out of our own pocket since the property’s basement had an enormous leak, turning the basement into a swimming pool with the rats swimming in it and the council had passed a bill for £10,000 for clearing up the rubbish that was nearly all the way up the ceiling, so a £250,000 home was devalued to only £70,000 but before we took on this case, the Treasury Solicitor had already rejected the claim of the natural daughter of the deceased because she had been adopted out of the family and as you probably know, if you are adopted by another family, then you lose all your rights to inherit from your natural family, on her second time to try to claim from the Treasury Sol, she added that her father had left her the keys of the house and she also claimed that her father told her that the house was hers. So the Treasury Solicitor rejected her second claim on the grounds that the father had 4 months before he died to make a will if he really intended to leave her the house then would have left a will, her claim would have been valid,only if the deceased is dying in hospital and there is no time to make a will, but you have to have witnesses too that can testify that her claims are true. This woman had no witnesses, so the Treasury Solicitor thought that her claims was hearsay, otherwise anyone could present themselves with a bunch of keys claiming an estate with a nice story. Anyway, after the Treasury Solicitor had rejected her claim two times they put up the case in the Treasury’s list of unclaimed estates, so we picked it up and did what we always do: Find other relatives who were abroad, we found two brothers and another company of Probate Researchers based in the U.K. found others. Anyway, later on, we got slapped with a law suit from the daughter of the deceased who had previously been rejected by the Treasury Solicitor twice. The case was heard in Oxford and as you know, it is a lottery whether you get an intelligent judge who knows the law or a senile judge who disregards the law of the land on a whim. The judge made his judgement in favour of the natural daughter because he felt sorry for her and of course the case was splashed all over the newspapers with the heading: Heir Hunter from the T.V. programmes loses legal fight against the daughter of a soldier. Portraying her as a heroine.

WindyCityNorth says:
14 December 2013

I see the PR group for this industry has ramped up it’s program after all the bad press it’s been getting. Too little …….too late …….. the real Heir-Hunter industry has been exposed, and it’s not a pretty site. Keep typing eventually the sheep will die of boredom .

WCN

Maria says:
15 December 2013

This thread has been here for TWO years and it is only you who has been harping against Probate Researchers, there haven’t been hoards of people complaining for the windfall they got, who otherwise they would NEVER have had, if it wasn’t for the Probate Researchers efforts.

WindyCityNorth says:
15 December 2013

To the moderator, I received this message in my email it called me a troll. This was by MARIA …When I look at her post online it is different … did you edit MARIA’S post. Or is their something sketchy going on here. My RECIEVED email is below.

Author: Maria
Comment:
This thread has been here for TWO years and it is only you who has been harping against Probate Researchers, there haven’t been hoards of people complaining for the windfall they got, who otherwise they would NEVER have had, if it wasn’t for the Probate Researchers efforts. I’m beginning to think that you are a troll.

See all comments on this post here:

Hello WCN, we don’t have a record of that comment. If that is what has been said then it is against our guidelines. Let’s move on please.

TheSecretHeirHunetr says:
18 December 2013

If firms found the “Heir Hunter” name so insulting why did they take part? Did they all just want their 15 minutes of fame? You reap what you sow.
Why on earth would the Treasury Solicitor’s Office rule on a case involving a gift at death? Alluding that the Judge involved in the case was senile could land you in hot water Maria!

I know about the case involving WCN, the amount was tiny!

WindyCityNorth says:
18 December 2013

TSSH, I GUESS YOUR TINY IS MY EXTRA GRANDE like you know what I received ! LOL