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Check the fine print before signing an heir hunter contract

Heir tracing firms offer a valuable service to potential beneficiaries by trying to establish whether they are the lawful heirs to an estate.  This is a full-time job requiring time, resources and effort, depending on the complexity of the case. In some instances, it can take months or years to identify an heir, so a balance has to be struck: rewarding hard work in our industry, whilst providing value for money to beneficiaries – and that’s why heir tracing fees should be analysed in detail.

In our previous article “Spot which heir hunters are working in your interests” we have already highlighted the importance of checking and comparing unlawful fees charged by rogue heir hunters.

However, we also come across additional charges made by some actors in our industry, which although lawful, do not give value for money to their clients. Therefore, we encourage people to question the detail of any contract they are asked to sign.

In the example below, the heir tracing company is adding certificate costs to the commission fee, so if you receive a contract like this, you should either ask for the clause to be removed, or find a company that will include these costs in their fee agreement:

What to look out for

Contingency fees should be charged as a percentage of the net value of the estate to each beneficiary and this can vary from 10% – 33% (plus VAT), with the industry average being 25%. If you are charged a percentage fee, make sure that your contract does not include any extra fees –and you should always be sure that VAT is not added twice to legitimate disbursements, a common practice across many industries, which we highlighted in a previous article.

To help you, here is a list of some additional charges you might come across in your contract, or in the final estate accounts:

Prevention is key – so stay tuned for upcoming articles with more specialist advice. Contact us if you have more questions!

Blog by Manuela Willbold

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