What would you do if a person called you claiming they have identified you as an heir to an unclaimed estate? Would you know which questions to ask to ensure that this is not a scam?
That’s where it gets complicated: You’re likely to believe what you’re told and accept what you get without question.
Take the case of the estate of Annie Layton: Celtic Research represented heirs to her estate, but another firm, UKPF (UK and Eire People Finder Ltd.) had their claim approved by the Government Legal Department (GLD) before Celtic’s claim was accepted. This gave UKPF the legal right to act for the estate -which isn’t a problem if the genealogy firm is professional and acts in the best interest of the estate.
However, Celtic found that UKPF were charging unlawful fees– in clear contravention of their duties to the estate. Hoping that this was a misunderstanding, they asked their solicitors to write to UKFP and here is an excerpt of the letter:
As the letter points out, UKPF charged fees from the Gross estate – in breach of their client contract; plus they mischarged VAT and added certificate costs and admin fees, which should have formed part of their full service.
UKFP never made a substantive response to the letter, or to our knowledge, rectified the problem.
Hector Birchwood of Celtic Research is alarmed by these malpractices and has noticed an increase in tricksters operating in the business of heir hunting. He’s been quoted in the Telegraph creating awareness and offering practical step-by-step advice, but he thinks this isn’t enough, so he’s turning to social media to educate the public.
Hector recommends asking 6 questions before signing a contract with an heir hunter:
1. Get a clear explanation of their fees: An heir hunter’s percentage fee should be derived from the NET value of the inheritance and include ALL the costs of research. They shouldn’t charge extra to facilitate the administration of the estate.
2. Is the heir hunter insured with professional indemnity insurance and what is their insurance limit? Confirm this with their insurer.
3. Will the estate be insured against somebody else making an equal or superior claim after distribution? Make sure they obtain ‘missing beneficiary insurance’ (MBI) and if you are the administrator, ask for a copy of the insurance documents.
4. Have they completed their research? Check your relationship to the deceased: There could be closer relatives, leaving you open to legal action.
5. Will you receive a family tree? A basic family tree should be provided at no cost, so beware if they charge extra for this.
6. How long have they been in business and how much experience do they have?
Prevention is key –so stay tuned for upcoming articles with more specialist advice. Contact us if you have more questions!
–Blog by Manuela Willbold