Overlooked Heirs Bite Back

Recent reports from major insurance companies indicate rise in claims from overlooked heirs to estates who have been missed out in research.

Probate practitioners who have been unfortunate enough to experience a claim on an estate from an entitled person will know how much of a problem this can be, especially if the claim surfaces after distribution has already taken place. If no indemnity insurance policy was put in place prior to distribution the consequences could be calamitous.

Probate practitioners who have been unfortunate enough to experience a claim on an estate from an entitled person will know how much of a problem this can be, especially if the claim surfaces after distribution has already taken place. If no indemnity insurance policy was put in place prior to distribution the consequences could be calamitous.

At Finders we have found around 50% of cases referred to us with partial or incomplete research having been compiled contain serious errors or omissions and often it is more time-consuming and expensive to undo and re-do what has already been done(incorrectly) than it would have been to start from scratch!

* What are the main causes of errors and claims?

As time marches on we will no doubt see an increase of births to unmarried couples or single parent families which, from an heir hunter’s point of view, can be almost impossible to detect. The traditional methods of researching a family tree rely on the neat assumptions of marriage followed by children which simply don’t apply anymore.

The internet research resources commonly used by heir hunters in compiling family tree data are notoriously inaccurate and, in virtually every case my company handles, we come across such errors in transcription which if viewed at face value could easily lead to beneficiaries not being identified or located.

Family mobility is also increasing with time and if your heir hunter does not have a strong international network further errors or oversights can also easily be made.

We have also been told by a major insurer that they have simply had to stop issuing policies to some heir hunters due to the number of claims their work has generated.

Another less frequent problem is the sudden appearance of a Will where the case had hitherto been assumed to be intestacy. Otherwise the practitioner may be working to a Will and a more recent one surfaces. These can be major headaches, however, there is such a thing as Missing Will Insurance too.

* Minimising the risk of claims

Proactive heir hunter research is very important, in order to uncover all the information about the family, but which may not be recorded properly or accurately on internet databases. Perhaps not surprising how often such a relatively simple thing is overlooked, especially where a smaller heir hunting company or a ‘one-man band’ is concerned.

Credentials and accreditations and the additional services offered by a probate research or heir hunter company are often designed to minimise any risk of claims and to assist you with compliance issues. Below I have listed some simple things to look for when choosing a probate genealogist:

• Approved agency status for a major insurer (Finders for example are tied to Aviva for our insurance work)

• Financial Services Authority registration for all insurance business.

• Professional Indemnity Insurance cover up to £1.5 million is required by the FSA and should be held by the probate genealogy firm.

• Data Protection Registration – security of data is guaranteed by registration.

• A Professional Conduct Code – probate genealogy is an unregulated industry and it is good to see self-imposed standards in the absence of formal regulation.

• Membership of Association of Professional Genealogists or a similar body such as AGRA, where membership means that the heir tracing company abide by their Code of Ethics.

• ISO 9001:2008 Total Quality Management is a useful indicator of a company that is concerned about its professional status.

• When intestacy is assumed, have you checked for a will? Finders, for example, offer to search for a Will, or for a more recent Will than the one in use (referred to as our Missing Will Service). This service is often free of charge and once completed may enable Missing Will Insurance to be taken out to cover against the risk of a Will being found at a later date.
• UK research – ensure that heir hunting work is conducted in-house by fully trained staff in the UK.

• Overseas agent network – if heir hunter research is outside the UK check that your heir hunter has a network of trusted agents worldwide. Remember that a case thought not to require international searches may unexpectedly need this if a family or individual is found to have emigrated and ‘disappeared’.

• Research resources – do not rely solely on internet based sources! Finders have a vast array of heir hunting resources in-house and we often have to refer to original records to check for errors or omissions where we suspect something is wrongly recorded. Being in London is also important as many major research institutions are only in the capital.

Daniel Curran has over 20 years’ experience as a professional probate genealogist and heir hunter and is founder and MD of Finders