What to do when you’ve been contacted by heir hunters

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.

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