If an heir hunter phoned you, knocked on your door, even contacted you through the post or via email, what would you think? Would you be excited or wary? Would you even believe what they had to say? After all, someone coming to you to tell you that a family member you barely knew, if you knew them at all, had died and you were entitled to a share of the estate is not something that happens every day.
However, with more and more people failing to make a will, and as families move further apart, the chances of exactly this scenario happening are increasing.
Although the majority of heir hunters are honest and have done a huge amount of background work before even coming into contact with you there are, just like in any industry, problems too. Heir hunters need to be paid just like anyone else, and many of them receive a percentage of the estate they are offering. So, the bigger the estate, the more money they get. This is not an inherently bad thing, but remember: all heir hunters have the same information, and if one has got in touch, others will too. It’s wise to find out what each one’s terms and percentages are before signing up with anyone.
Due to this, it can be a bit of a race for the heir hunters to find the relatives of those who have died intestate. And they can utilise fairly pressurised sales techniques to persuade you to sign with them rather than another company. This is not fair, and it’s not right, and you, the beneficiary, are the one in the position of power – you don’t have to sign with the person who is telling you to, especially if their percentage take is too high.
The good news is, if the deceased person died less than 30 years previously, there is no huge rush – the estate won’t be declared ownerless just yet, and the money won’t go to the Treasury. So you’ve got time to do some important research and have some breathing space.
Some heir hunting companies – IWC included – actually offer fixed price fees. This means that no matter what the inheritance actually is, you will know in advance exactly what you will be paying to receive it.
So when the heir hunters come calling, don’t rush anything. Think hard. Contact IWC. We’ll find your inheritance, and we won’t charge the earth for it either.
Voluntary Watchdog introduced for heir hunting companies
A number of heir hunters organisations have sprung up in recent years, claiming to be able to identify lost relatives who may be in line to receive an inheritance from a deceased member of their family. In many instances, the individuals have lost touch and some next of kin are not even aware of the individual's demise.
Most of the organisations providing these services are perfectly legitimate, experienced and knowledgeable. However, there are those who seek to take advantage of people, charging excessive fees in the form of a high percentage of any money secured from the deceased's estate.
In addition to the above, a number of scams are also now in operation. These scams notify individuals that they have been left money as part of an inheritance and the organisation concerned needs their bank details in order to deposit the money. Of course, there never was any such inheritance but now the bogus organisation has your bank details, it has free rein to withdraw large sums of money.
It is as a result of these unscrupulous and sometimes criminal activities, that the head of the Heir Hunters Association worked to establish the Federation Probate and Asset Researchers (FPAR). It aims to help consumers and organisations and enforce a code of practice for its member organisations.
Please be aware that IWC is fully registered with the Heir Hunters Association and regularly works alongside executors and solicitors in tracing long lost relatives and making claims to the treasury solicitor. In addition we fully support the FPAR having also found issues when dealing with one or two unscrupulous heir hunting companies.
Disclaimer: This article in no way suggests or implies that heir hunting companies who are not members of the Heir Hunting Association are not legitimate companies charging legitimate fees. We strongly recommend you do your own research before choosing to engage any company.
Fake inheritance scam strikes again
Although for many of us, fake inheritance scams are a regular occurrence, and result in nothing more than a swift departure into the “Deleted” email box, it seems that many people of retirement age are still parting with their savings, in the hope of securing a “surprise” – and non-existent inheritance.
It was recently reported in a Bedfordshire newspaper that a number of vulnerable and elderly people across the county and in Cornwall, the West Midlands, Essex and Lincolnshire were conned into paying out a total of £300,000 during a recent scam, concocted by a number of men from London and Essex.
Sending letters to individuals, notifying them of a fictional $ US 10 million held in a Hong Kong bank, several victims were interested enough to travel to London, where they were told that the money was held in a bag which had been blackened. The bag was not shown, but some of the alleged money was – blackened, of course.
Assured that the money would be valid once it had been cleaned, the victims were then asked to pay for the cleaning fluid or to have the money passed through a special “cleaning machine”. Of course, once the funds had been received, the inheritance never materialised.
Although investigations are still continuing, nine victims have so far been identified – one man even parting with £150,000.
If you want to know the truth about how reputable heir hunters really work, contact the IWC Ltd team for further information.
What happens to an unclaimed intestate estate?
An intestate estate is one whereby the deceased never made a will and so their intentions for the distribution of their estate were never made clear.
Normally in these cases, the deceased's next of kin will apply for probate and will go on to distribute the estate according to the law of intestacy. However, if there are no next of kin or if none can be traced, then the estate is referred to the treasury solicitor.
With families now spread across the entire globe, the task of tracing relatives can often become more difficult, which has led to an increase in the services of professional heir hunters. These heir hunters will search for any remaining blood relatives, once the estate has been posted on the Unclaimed Estates Register, also known as the Bona Vacantia List.
Blood relatives can be spouses, biological children, parents, siblings and their children, half siblings and their children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and half aunts and uncles.
If you feel you may be entitled to benefit from a deceased relative's estate, then you should contact us.
A company of heir hunters has been convicted of fraud, after it was revealed that it had conned over £237,000 from five family members in the UK and Canada.
Charlotte Cook died recently, aged 93 without leaving a will. Initially, it was thought that her only surviving relatives were three nephews and nieces.
The company, World Wide Genealogy Ltd, was quickly able to estimate the value of the estate. However, it never passed on this information to Ms Cook’s surviving heirs, who were never even made aware of who had died. Instead, it appeared to undertake a lengthy and complicated investigation, charging the siblings almost £132,000 in expenses, before it was found out. In addition, it also conned the beneficiaries into agreeing to pay the firm, 40% of the final value of the inheritance.
The UK-based siblings were told they should expect to receive almost £11,000. Instead, they never received a penny.
Finally, warning bells began to ring and West Berkshire and Wokingham Trading Standards launched an investigation into the company, resulting in successful prosecution.
Overall, World Wide Genealogy is to repay the heirs around £230,000 and was fined £25,000 in costs.
For a reputable heir hunting service, from tracing a lost relative to making a claim on an estate, visit http://iwc-ltd.co.uk/genealogy-research__heir-hunters.html.
A shocking case came to light last week, in which a property developer pretended to belong to a professional group of heir hunters, in order to gain access to an empty property and pass it off as ready to be let out to tenants.
The empty property in question, which is situated in Essex, belonged to a gentleman who passed away in 2012. As no will was made, the house was then passed to The Treasury Solicitor’s department as part of the intestate process.
The property developer who, like many other scammers, scanned the department’s website to see a list of “bona vacantia” properties, instructed a locksmith, advising him that she was a solicitor, to change the locks so she could gain access and install new tenants into the home.
Fortunately, neighbours became suspicious, contacting both their local MP and the Treasury Solicitor’s department. Shockingly however, police concurred that in fact the woman had not committed any crime.
Acting quickly, the Treasury Solicitor’s department instructed another locksmith to change the locks to the house once again and the fraudulent “solicitor” was given a warning.
If your loved one or neighbour has left behind an empty property, ensure that anyone trying to take possession of it can provide full proof of their identity, before they gain access.
Have you ever wondered what the chances are of a wealthy long lost relative leaving you a small fortune? Here’s a collection of facts about unclaimed estates, inheritance and heir hunters.
In Britain around 2 thirds of people die without making a will.
There are around 20,000 unclaimed estates in the UK and 2,000 more join the register each year.
Unclaimed estate details are public records; you can access the information by searching the Bona Vacantia (the ownerless goods list).
You can search online for all unclaimed estates since 1 Jan 1997, when records were computerised.
The latest unclaimed estates are published every Wednesday at midnight.
£21m was paid out by the Treasury in 2010 to long-lost heirs.
If the estate is not claimed within 12 years, it goes to the Treasury and becomes the property of the Crown.
It is still possible to claim some part of the estate for up to 30 years after the death.
In 2011 the Treasury Solicitor took in £18m from those who had not made a will.
Since December 2007 the values of estates are no longer published to discourage fraud against any assets.
Around 500,000 Brits benefit from an inheritance through heir hunting firms every year. Professional heir hunters find the rightful beneficiaries of the estates held by the treasury and charge a finder’s fee for their efforts.
The average estate value is £67,500.
The average finder’s fee charged is 20% of the inheritance.
Many people throw away letters, and ignore phone calls saying they are entitled to a share of an unclaimed estate because they think they are scams.
The BBC program Heir Hunters was first aired on 4 June 2007 and is now in its 6th series. It attracts around 1.7million viewers.
The probate genealogists featured on the show were heavily criticised in a case involving Jessica Ellacott. The 17 year old student expected to receive a share of £175,000 inheritance from a cousin twice removed but the firm wanted to charge a third of her pay-out, plus VAT. – Daily Mail, This is Money, BBC 'bounty hunters' row.
Which.co.uk slates one firm who are charging as much as 40% plus VAT.
Market research company Opinium found that Brits could be handing over as much as £10 million a year to heir locater firms.