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.
Heir hunting is essential when someone dies intestate (ie without a will), and there are no immediate relatives to inherit the deceased person’s estate. An heir hunter will then carry out an investigation in order to discover any distant relatives who would be able to inherit the estate. But what other reasons might an heir hunter be employed to find someone?
It could be due to health issues. Some diseases are known to be hereditary, and if someone dies from something particularly aggressive, and especially if it can be treated, then finding members of the extended family could actually save lives. And if the disease cannot be treated, it is worth letting people know this as well – so that they can decide about whether or not to have children and so on. Cancer is one such disease, as well as hereditary heart conditions and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Heir hunters can also be hired to find family members when there is no inheritance involved. This could be when people do go missing – or they have moved away and contact has been lost. It could also be used for finding biological families after an adoption. Although it is possible to do these things yourself, heir hunters have the tools and the expertise to do it much more quickly. And although you will necessarily need to pay them for their time, it could well end up costing less than if you were to try to do it yourself. Think of all the time you would need to put into the search, and how many websites or organisations you would need to sign up for – and potentially pay for – if you were to go it alone. Hiring a professional heir hunter will make things much easier.
You may have heard the term ‘heir hunter’ before, but not been entirely sure what one was or what they did. You may not have been aware that they could be extremely useful for you.
An heir hunter, simply put, is someone who looks for missing beneficiaries who are named in a will buy whose whereabouts is not known. Or for those people who will benefit from someone’s estate due to the rules of intestacy.
It used to be that such a profession was not required, since families used to stay in one area and remain together. Today, however, families are much more spread out – and due to emigration, multiple marriages and step-families there are more relatives than there would have been before. This means that the services of heir hunters are used much more frequently. It also means that the job of an heir hunter is a hard one – they need to be experts in their field and understand exactly how to look for people to speed up the process.
And sometimes people simply cannot be found.
Because of the expertise and the time that is often needed to trace people, heir hunters charge commissions (anything from 10 to 30%, on average, depending on the job at hand).
Despite the prevalence of heir hunters today, most people are suspicious at first when they are contacted by one. After all, who hasn’t dreamt of receiving a windfall from an unknown relative? And when it actually happens, many people simply can’t believe it. If this were to happen to you, it is important to research the heir hunting company thoroughly. This profession is not currently regulated, and it is important to understand the pros and cons before signing with a particular company. It is likely that more than one company will be searching for you – so although time is a factor, there is a little leeway to ensure that you are signing with the best company for you.
For some, genealogy is life changing. From something that for others is a hobby, for those who really want to look deeper into it, it is something that can become not only an obsession, but a job. There are many professional genealogists who specialise in creating family trees for other people, or hunting heirs who might be due an inheritance.
But why is it so important?
There are, of course, important reasons for wanting to find missing family members or ancestors. Some of them could be health issues. If there is a history of a particular disease in the family, it can help doctors to diagnose it more quickly. This can save lives as in some cases.
Stories are also important. People like – and need – to know where they have come from, and the stories about the past can help them connect not only to their ancestors but also to themselves. These stories can also determine more information about historical events and put them into perspective.
Genetics doesn’t have to be about health issues. It can be about something as simple as finding out whether you look like something related to someone in the past. This is another way of finding out where you come from and how you fit into the extended family tree.
For those who have been adopted genealogy might be the only way of finding out more about the birth family. The same is true for a birth family searching for an adopted child. Tracing a family tree can bring the answers that would otherwise have been missing forever.
You might have family letters, Bibles with names written in them, you might be named after someone and you want more information about them…
Families can be very complicated things. Genealogy can help to simplify it.
Some family trees don’t stretch back too far. Some can be traced back for centuries. But how big is your family tree? Not how many generations, or how many people are on, but the actual, physical size of it? Never thought about it? Well, a woman from Des Moines in America decided to find out exactly how big her family tree was – and the results surprised even her!
Velma Turner, 77, decided one day six years ago that she wanted to see what her family tree looked like – in the form of a real tree. So she went to work, firstly tracing her roots back to the 1600s, and then putting all the details together in a full sized model of a living, breathing tree in her living room. She admits she didn’t realise the project would be quite as big as it turned out to be (around 7 feet), but she is pleased with the result, which does look impressive. With varnished leaves representing family members, toothpaste moulded to show water, cotton clouds, and treated branches to show where everyone came from (and this includes Madagascar and Ethiopia), it really is an impressive piece of sculpture – and it tells a fascinating story.
The tree entirely covers her living room wall, and covers eight generations. She would like to add the newest generation to it, but she has run out of room and needs to work out how to put generation number 9 into the sculpture!
Velma loves her tree, and is proud not only of the work she put into it, but the sense of belonging it instils in her, and her family.
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.