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Heir Hunters - how the state could get your estate

View profile for Hollie Allcorn
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Every year, thousands of people die intestate - without leaving a Will. In rare circumstances where a person dies without at least one living relative, the estate will, after a period of 12 years, go to the Crown. However, there are companies of professional heir hunters who, for a fee, will trace potential beneficiaries.

Who are Heir Hunters and what do they do?

Every Thursday HM Treasury releases a list of names, dates of birth, and the place and date of death of thousands of people. With this information, heir hunters (a term for full-time Probate genealogists which became popular following the BBC One show of the same name) will search for names of people who have died intestate where no obvious living relative can be easily traced.  Searching family trees to trace anyone who may be related to the deceased can be complicated, especially if records have been interrupted by world wars or if relatives have emigrated overseas.

How much do they charge?

The usual fee is between 10% and 30% of the estate (plus VAT), or some heir hunters charge a time-based fee. There can be a lot of time involved in tracing a family, which sometimes includes frequent travelling both at home and abroad.

What happens if other relatives are traced in the future?

It’s statistically unlikely you’ll be the sole beneficiary. It can also be the case that initially you may inherit everything, but then other relatives are traced further down the line. If the inheritance has already been spent, then the other relatives will still need to be paid a share of the original estate value. In this instance it may be worthwhile to take out what is known as ‘Missing Beneficiary Indemnity’ insurance.

Can’t I do it myself?

It is possible to do your own ‘heir hunting’ but you’ll need hard evidence of the validity of your claim, such as a detailed family tree.  Specialist probate and inheritance experts have the resources and experience to work quickly and effectively. If you think you may be the rightful heir of an estate, it may be worth contacting specialist heir hunters to see if you are entitled.

How Gepp and Sons can help

If you think you may be entitled to a share of an estate but are not sure of the next steps, feel free to contact Gregory John on 01245 228120 or johng@gepp.co.uk. We will help guide you through the legal process using clear and understandable English.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.