Discovering more about your family tree, finding out more about where you come from, can be a rewarding and fascinating hobby, but if you have made just one small mistake somewhere down the line and end up spending hours – days, even weeks – researching the wrong people… it can be frustrating to say the least. So how can you ensure that the people you are looking into really are the right ones?
There are a few tips that will help you.
Firstly, don’t be tempted to miss anyone out or skip generations. Although not everyone in your family is going to be the most interesting of people, if you skip past them, you might take a wrong turn and if you do that, it can be hard to get back on track. The same is true if you think you already know everything about one particular person. This usually happens when it comes to parents or grandparents. But if you fail to do the research that you would do for other generations just because you think you know the people you are looking into, you might miss out on a major part of their lives, which could lead to additional family that you didn’t realise existed.
Next, don’t assume that a family title means the same then as it does now. Calling someone a cousin, aunt, uncle, or even using the names ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ might not actually mean that really are a cousin, aunt, uncle, or related in any way. These terms were used much more loosely centuries ago. For example, if there were two men of the same name in a village, they might have been designated junior and senior, even if they weren’t actually related. Don’t assume that people were married either, just because they have the same name. If a woman was living in a house with a man, she may have been his sister-in-law, or even a family friend. Dig deeper to be sure.
Thirdly, don’t forget to note down where you found your information. Write down the website, book details, even microfilm and newspaper dates. Make sure you know where the information came from. This is especially important if you come across seemingly conflicting information.
Next, make sure that what you’re writing down really makes sense. If not, you may have made an error somewhere along the line, and it’s best to find that out sooner rather than later. Common mistakes that might go unnoticed at first could be that someone’s wedding takes place just a few years after they were born, or that a woman’s child was born after their mother had died! Check the dates to ensure that nothing odd has happened.
The more organised you are in your research, the easier it will be – and the fewer mistakes you are likely to make. Create or find a filing system that allows you to save your work in the best way for you, depending on how you do your research. Make sure that you have somewhere to store hard copies of your research too, and not just digital copies on your computer.
Just because something has been published, that doesn’t make it true. You should always double check any ‘facts’ that you find, and verify any research that has been done previously. This is also important for when someone else has already started your family tree, and you are completing it. Check their work before starting your own.
Finally, DNA can be a really useful tool. Although your DNA won’t be able to give you a direct link back to everyone in your family tree, it will be able to offer you some insight into where you can from, and show you were you should be looking – literally – for your ancestors.
Sometimes it really is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and the old adage of location, location, location really does pay dividends. Literally in the case of the residents of a Spanish village called Cerezales del Condado.
This tiny little village can be found in the north west of Spain, in a province called Leon. It is unremarkable in most ways, although a pretty little place. However, when the founder of Corona beer, Antonio Fernandez, died, he left everyone in the village a little something – a little something that added up to around £2 million each.
Fernandez died in August 2016 at the age of 99. He left school at the age of 14 when his parents could no longer afford to pay the fees, but that didn’t stop him from amassing a huge fortune that is estimated to be in the billions through the Corona beer brand which is the second most imported beer in America. Even after he retired, Fernandez remained honorary chairman of the board from 2005 until he died.
Part of that fortune – approximately £200 million of it – was left to the residents of Cerezales del Condado, where he had been born and where he had spent the early years of his life in abject poverty.
The villagers are hailing the man as a hero. The area is not a wealthy one, and the majority of them residents have never had much money at all. Now they are overnight millionaires.
Even the former king of Spain, Juan Carlos, acknowledged Antiono’s generosity through his life.
There are thousands of empty homes in the UK, and, according to recent research, around 90 percent of those homes are empty due to poorly managed or complicated probate. This has held the process up, meaning that although the previous owner of the property is now deceased, it cannot be sold until probate is completed. It is therefore left empty, and at the mercy of thieves and squatters. This in turn reduces the potential value of the house or flat, and causes my possible issues regarding the estate.
The main reason for homes being empty is that those dealing with the will of the deceased – the executors – have no understanding of the probate process. And why should they? Being an executor is not something that people are called upon to do every day. It is extremely important that, if you are an executor for someone’s estate, you ask for expert advice.
Another problem is that the home owner dies intestate – that is, without a will. With no final direction from the deceased, it can be difficult to arrange probate in a sufficiently quick time.
And what if beneficiaries can’t be found? This holds up proceedings as well. As can missing paperwork and family disputes around what should or should not happen.
It’s not just legal or tangible problems either. Sometimes an emotional attachment to a property can mean that it isn’t sold as quickly as it should be. Although completely understandable, and although of course emotions will come into the events that need to happen after someone dies, it is still important to think logically, and sell the home in a timely manner – even if it is a well-loved childhood home.
With everything else that you need to think about when someone close to you dies, the length of time that probate will take is probably not one of them. However, for an executor of a will, it is a useful thing to know – it is something that, eventually, beneficiaries will begin to ask you, and you will need to be able to work out a timeline of what is happening when. This is especially important if you also have a job and need to try to fit everything in.
The problem is that the length of probate as the same answer as the question of how long is a piece of string… It’s almost impossible to tell.
After applying for the Grant of Probate, you will most likely need to wait for six weeks or so before you receive probate. This is, of course, an estimate, and it could be less. It could also be much more. It will be more if the estate is a particularly complicated one. In these cases probate can take much longer than six weeks – it could even be months.
And finally receiving the Grant of Probate does not mean that the executor’s job is over. Once it has been approved, the executor must call in assets, make claims on the insurance policies that affect the estate, wind up any outstanding issues, and organise the dispersal of the estate as per the testator’s wishes.
Although it may seem as though an executor’s job is never done, there is always hope. Due to some estates taking many years to complete, there is something in law known as the ‘executor’s year’. It means that the executor has one year to gather together everything they need in order to carry out the tasks required of them. When there are varied trusts to deal with, lots of different insurances, a number of different properties, and so on, the executor may need every second of that year.
Jamaica. At that time, there was more than one application for the grant of letters of administration submitted. The first was from someone claiming to be Ms Lyons’ niece, Audrene Kerr-Robinson. She was given the grant in February 2012. However, this was soon determined to be a mistake when it was discovered that Kerr-Robinson had no claim to the estate.
Although she was contacted by the Principal Probate Registry, there was no response.
The other applications, which had been unsuccessful, had been from Jonathan Kerr and George Lyons. They proceeded to challenge Ms Kerr-Robinson’s claims. They were both close relatives, but Kerr-Robinson, an accountant, was not – or so they said. So that they could stop the estate being broken up and distributed to the wrong people, the pair employed an estate administrator to ensure that everything was kept together while their claim was looked into.
Kerr-Robinson’s grant was revoked due to the initial error, and she was requested to pay £20,000 as well as some of the estate assets to the interim administrator.
In order to refute this claim, Ms Kerr-Robinson hired Blueprint Property Lawyers to appeal on her behalf. This cost almost £87,000 even though the company were not probate lawyers (and therefore should not have been involved in the case) which was taken from the estate.
Eventually, it was determined that that money would have to be returned. Unfortunately, Blueprint Property Lawyers had gone into insolvency, and this meant that Ms Kerr-Robinson was liable for the cost. She should, said the judge, not have used the estate that was in dispute to pay bills relating to it.
Sadly, people do die when abroad – they may be on holiday, or perhaps they have moved there permanently. They could simply be working there. Whatever the reason for them being in another country, the stress of grief couple with an unfamiliar legal system can cause untold upset.
What should you do?
If you are travelling with someone and they die when abroad, the first thing that must be done is to contact the nearest British Embassy, High Commission, or Consulate. The advisors working in these places will be able to talk you through exactly what you need to do, and they will be able to help with paperwork and language barriers too. Irish citizens will need to find their nearest Irish embassy.
Once the appropriate authorities have been informed of the death, they will ask the police to inform the next of kin, assuming they were not travelling together. If anyone else tells you that your next of kin has passed away, it is best to contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (also known as the FCO) who will be able to confirm the details. They will also be able to help with any arrangements that need to be made.
For those on package holidays, the holiday representative on the resort that the deceased was staying in should also be told as soon as possible.
The death must also be registered within the country where it took place. In some countries this can be done at the British embassy or Consulate – if that is the case then you should receive a British death certificate. If this is not the case in the country or area you are in, then the death will need to be registered at the FCO instead. You will need to know the full name and date of birth of the person who died, their passport number, the details of where and when the passport was issued, and details of their next of kin.
When someone dies, it is often the case that family members can run into issues regarding how the assets are going to be distributed. Whether it is someone saying that they don’t want anything from the deceased, or the family wanting to go against the wishes of the deceased and distribute the assets how they want to do it, this kind of problem can cause arguments at a difficult time.
If the deceased’s wishes need – or are requested – to be modified after the will has been executed, then the heirs all have to enter into an Agreement of Heirs. This is a written document that must be signed by everyone involved. It acknowledges that they have a right to inherit, and sets out how the new agree inheritance will be carried out, which will be different to that written within the will.
Because this is such an important document, the best advice is that it should be drawn up by a lawyer.
An Agreement of Heirs can even be created if there is no will. If the beneficiaries of the estate don’t agree with how the rules of intestacy would divide their inheritance up, they can go to a lawyer to draw up an Agreement of Heirs to show that they have discussed the estate and agree to a different course of action.
An Agreement of Heirs makes the distribution process easier, but it does not mean that probate can be skipped. Probate will still need to be carried out if the deceased owned assets that require it, no matter how differently they are distributed from what was written in the will.
We can now do almost everything online, from shopping to dating, to most work practices. What’s next? It could be anything, and it will be everything eventually, that is almost certain.
The latest idea to come out of the online world is virtual mourning. The idea behind it is that funerals can be live streamed over the internet so that those who cannot attend in real life can at least be part of the proceedings. Weddings have been done this way for a little while now, so it seems inevitable that funerals would also go virtual.
All those who want to be involved in the funeral but cannot be there themselves would need is an internet connection and a device that is compatible with the platform being used. This could, of course, be organised with plenty of time to spare. So people who live on the other side of the world, or who simply cannot come due to disability or transport issues, can now watch their friends and loved ones being laid to rest.
As with any new concept, there have been criticisms, and when it comes to death people do feel very strongly about what is ‘right’ and ‘proper’. The main concern seems to be that the funeral itself will become something that no one actually attends, with everyone preferring to watch online. This, the experts say, is not ideal when it comes to the mourning process, as watching on a screen lends a feeling of detachment. Therefore, grieving may not take place as it should, leading to emotional problems further on. Around a fifth of Britain’s 281 crematoriums already have webcams fitted for this reason, and the idea is growing in popularity despite misgivings.
For many people, it could save much guilt and worry if they are unable to attend the funeral itself yet can still watch online.