As a solicitor acting as personal representative it’s your duty to work in your client’s interests, whilst safeguarding the interest of your firm.
There is an element of risk in intestacy cases whereby new/unknown beneficiaries make a claim after the assets have been distributed. Hence the reason you may decide to refer the case to a professional probate genealogist. Therein obtaining verified family trees and asset distribution schedules that will enable you to distribute the estate accordingly.
If you’ve decided to go it alone, here are some tips to help you find beneficiaries and minimise any risk to your company.
- You may know that the deceased was married but don’t assume that there were no other marriages prior to this.
- Common mistakes happen through making presumptions about the deceased e.g. ignoring the possibility off illegitimate children.
- Not only do you need to prove relationships but you need evidence to show the termination of family lines.
- Adopted children have the same rights as biological children but make sure you confirm the adoption and obtain documented evidence.
- Verify all the information you receive. If a friend or family member says that someone has died, or they had no children – check the facts for yourself.
- Ensure that beneficiaries are in fact blood relatives, having the same surname does not prove anything, always obtain supporting evidence.
- If the deceased was resident overseas, seek legal advice in that country.
- When you have identified heirs, the distribution of the estate can be complex. It is a common mistake to share assets equally when beneficiaries should have received different entitlements. At this stage, you may want to speak with a professional.
- Obtain a missing beneficiary insurance policy to safeguard yourself – you may need to get research verified in order to do this as you will have to demonstrate you have taken every step to minimise the risk of a claim.
If you need any help – Call us free on 0800 612 6105.
It’s natural to have mixed feelings if you’ve been contacted to say that an estranged relative has died and you’re heir to the estate. These may range from excitement and elation to shock and sadness. The important thing is to find out what’s what before you take any action.
Many people act in haste, getting swept away with the emotional aspect and don’t realise they could be signing away a small fortune. Heir hunting companies charge an average of 20% of the value of the estate. Furthermore, a poll by consumer research group Opinium found that 40% of people feel pressured to sign on the dotted line.
If you’ve been contacted, know your rights, you are not obligated in any way.
1. Estates only pass to the Government after 30 years. The chances are the person will have only recently passed away so there’s no need to act in haste.
2. The heir hunting firm may have found the estate details listed on a public database called the Bona Vacantia. The means the estate has been referred to the Treasurer. You can contact them directly and make a claim yourself if you wish.
3. Get as much information as you can – the name of the deceased and how you are related to them. Be wary of a company who refuses to give you this information unless you sign something.
4. Try to find out the name of the administrator of the estate so you can contact them directly.
5. Ask for the estate value and how many beneficiaries are entitled.
6. Never just accept a fee as a percentage, ask what it equates to in monetary terms.
7. If the fee seems reasonable, ask them to substantiate their charges by explaining what work was involved and how many hours they’ve spent on the case.
8. Don’t sign anything or agree to anything until you’ve done your research.
9. If you’re still in doubt, get legal advice. Call our helpline free on 0800 612 6105.
If you’re trying to find the rightful heirs to an estate, you’ll need to know who’s entitled to inherit under the laws of intestacy.
Firstly, UK inheritance law states that a beneficiary must be related by blood. This in itself poses many questions.
Are half-brothers/sisters entitled to inherit?
Yes, they are blood kin because they share a parent. The children of half-siblings can also inherit.
Can step relations inherit?
No, step brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers etc. have no blood link with the deceased.
What about adopted children?
A child who is legally adopted has the same rights as a biological child. On the other hand, an adopted child has no rights to make a claim on the estate of their biological parents.
What happens if the deceased was adopted?
The deceased’s adopted family have the right to claim the estate.
How it works
The rules of intestacy consist of a hierarchy which gives preferences to the closest blood relatives of the deceased. This is as follows:
Spouse or Civil partner
Uncles & Aunts
First Cousin once removed
An estranged spouse is still entitled.
It does not matter whether children are illegitimate.
Issue (Offspring) automatically inherit in place of siblings/uncles/aunts/cousins who are deceased.
Uncles and aunts by marriage are not entitled, nor are brother/sister in-laws.
First cousin once removed refers to the children of the deceased’s cousin – ‘removed’ simply means they are not of the same generation.
If there are none of the above, the Crown gets it.
The Treasury do consider claims from close friends, carers and employees of the deceased in cases where they had no surviving relatives. However, this is rare. Supporting evidence of the relationship must be provided, documenting how long you’ve know them, the nature of the relationship, proof that the deceased would want you to inherit.
If you’ve discovered that you’re entitled to inherit assets listed on the unclaimed estates register (bona vacantia), you’ll need to prove your relationship with the deceased. Here’s the evidence you’ll need to provide before you can make a claim.
A family tree to show how you’re related.
All birth and marriage certificates that support the link.
Proof of your identity
Proof of your address
If you don’t have the certificates you’ll need to obtain them from the local registrar’s office where the event took place.
Making a thorough application
The items listed above are the minimum supporting documents required. The Treasurer makes it clear that ‘The onus is on the claimant to satisfy us that they are entitled.’ Therefore, it is advisable to provide full, detailed information about your relationship with the deceased. This could include:
A written account of how you discovered and proved the link.
More supporting documents such as census data, military records.
Any other information about deceased person that you have found out such as their occupation or last known address.
What happens next?
It will take about 4 weeks for your claim to be processed. During this time, you may be contacted with further requests for information.
The Treasury solicitor’s office will examine your claim and verify the supporting evidence carefully before they accept it. It’s important that your supporting documents are accurate. Many claimants submit family trees that are inaccurate as certain family members have been missed-out. Cases are subsequently rejected so you may want to get yours professionally verified first.
If you’re in any doubt, call IWC Ltd on 0800 612 6105 for free advice from a professional probate genealogist.
What is probate?
Probate is the process of administering a deceased person’s estate. The term is derived from the Latin word verb probo (to prove) – the validity of a will. The executor/administrator must apply to the court to be granted the legal right to wind up the estate. To do this they must provide supporting documents such as the death certificate, an inventory of assets, a copy of the will.
What information can I find?
Wills are rich information that’s especially valuable in genealogical research. You can find out where your ancestor lived, what they owned, who they left their possessions to, what they did for a living, and lots more. Aside from factual information it can give you a real personal insight into the life of your ancestor, who they favoured, religious preferences, their social standing, hobbies and interests. You’ll even get to see their signature.
What if my ancestor didn’t make a will?
Even if your ancestors did not make a will, there are still records produced during the probate process that can provide valuable information about your family history. Documents include the letters of administration – a formal document appointing a representative to administer the estate and an inventory of the deceased’s possessions. It will also contain names, places, addresses, dates, to further your search.
How far do records go back?
The Probate Registry took control of wills and administrations in 1858. At this time the principle registry was established in London, along with several district registries around the country. Prior to this, 300 different church courts dealt with probate, therefore records are scattered.
How do I access probate records?
IWC offer a will finding service for genealogy researchers. Enter all the information you have into our form and we’ll trace your ancestors will on your behalf. Order probate records
Farming families are being warned about the implications of inaccurately completing a death certificate, following a number of cases where the given occupation of the deceased was not correct, resulting in Inheritance Tax liability falling due when in actual fact, it should not have done.]
In many instances, elderly farmers continue to oversee the running of their farm, even though they are unable to carry out the more physical work themselves. In these cases, provided that the family farm is classed as an agricultural property and has been occupied for at least two years before the person’s death, then Agricultural Property Relief can be applied to the value of the property and land, meaning that 100% relief from Inheritance Tax is granted.
If the deceased is classed on the death certificate as being “retired” however, then APR is no longer applicable and their estate will fall liable to the usual 40% Inheritance Tax charged.
Retiring from farming can therefore have serious tax consequences therefore, and advice should be sought before making this move.
The public is being warned about a new inheritance scam, whereby some homeowners have received letters from fake executors of a fictional will.
These letters, who claim to be sent from a Japanese or Chinese bank, acting as executor, state that they are trying to trace long lost relatives of a deceased individual who made a large investment before their death.
They go on to say that no next of kin has been found to date and so the recipient of the letter will become the sole beneficiary of the investment which usually runs into millions of pounds, suggesting that the funds be split between the bank and the person.
This is a particularly cruel scam, offering false hope to many at a time when many families are facing particular financial hardship. Remember that this is a criminal offence and should be reported to police. The public is also being advised to never send an organisation any money without first carrying out significant research to validate their real existence.
Many people are not aware that the spouse from which they are separated or even divorced, may be legally entitled to their share of inheritance when their mother in law or father in law dies – unless they remarry before their parent’s death.
Should an ex decide to make a claim against an estate, the decision to grant them any assets is usually placed in the hands of a judge, who will seek to achieve a reasonable agreement.
This difficult decision as to who should receive what from an inheritance is based principally on equality, dependent on the value of assets currently held by each party before the inheritance is shared out.
The individual needs of each party must also be taken into consideration, with questions asked including who has the larger family and/or young children to take care of? If a maintenance order is in place, would a larger percentage of the proceeds of the estate rule out the need for any further maintenance payments?
Once a claim gets to the stage of legal proceedings, there is little that either party can do to control what happens to the deceased’s assets. It is therefore wise to take legal advice as soon as the separation takes place, to protect assets as much as possible.
Another appeal against a will was heard recently, regarding overseas property.
The Court of Appeal heard in October, how the deceased father of five adult children had a significant relationship with a woman and her son in later years.
The deceased had been fortunate enough to have property both in the UK and Cyprus, and his entire estate was left to his partner and her son upon his death, in accordance with the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.
His children launched an appeal to overturn this decision. However, they finally agreed that the woman’s family had indeed been dependent on their father prior to his death and so by default, they should benefit from the estate.
The judge in the appeal upheld the original ruling but conceded that the man’s children should be awarded some of the English assets.
Last week, the government publicly lent its support towards introducing a Private Members Bill regarding the presumption of death law, which will see a presumption of death certificate come into play when individuals have been declared missing, presumed dead.
This presumption of death certificate will contain the same power as a traditional death certificate and will help loved ones left behind to move on, by being able to settle the financial affairs of the missing person much faster and easier than they have been able to in the past.
Currently, the death certificate allows the executor of a will to contact all financial organisations relevant to the deceased. These organisations are then able to provide information regarding how much money they held for the deceased at the time of death and the amount of income received during that that particular tax year. On receipt of the death certificate, they can also freeze the deceased’s bank accounts.
In future, presentation of a presumption of death certificate will also allow the relevant representative of the deceased’s estate to access the same information and carry out the same activities, without having to wait years at a time.