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  1. #1

    Default Heir Hunters Research Accuracy

    I thought I might start my first non-introductory post, with the subject that first prompted me to sign up to this forum (mods; please feel free to move this to a more appropriate section, if one exists, still finding my way around!).

    I've been researching family history for over a decade now, probably not as seriously as some though. About 18 months ago, my mother was contacted by several heir hunter firms regarding a distant cousin. To be honest, at the time, this was the first time we had ever come across such firms. I quickly did a little research on these companies, to establish their credentials, plus very quickly established that the lady in question was actually related to us. Like most people in this situation, I suppose there was an air of excitement at first, but this was quickly tempered by firstly the likely size of this lady's estate (although we don't know the size yet, you can estimate it), the number of likely heirs ( I estimated probably about a dozen people), but more the sad realisation that this lady had actually lived and died quite close to where we lived, and yet, for whatever reason, her parents had become estranged or separated from the rest of the extended family to such an extent, that no one in my family even knew of the lady's existence. For me, I found it especially sad when I found death notices in the local paper, placed by perhaps a neighbour, or maybe members of her late husbands family, indicating she was loved and remembered by someone, yet they were not to benefit from any legacy.

    Ok, thats the preamble. The long and short of it, "we" (my mother and her siblings) decided to sign up with a well known Heir Hunter outfit, mainly on the basis that they were the first to contact us, and they seemed the most professional (one of the others that contacted us seem to use the address of a flat above a shop as a trading address).

    18 months later, and the researchers have sent us a letter advising that they have submitted their final report to the solicitors, with a plea that if we spot any errors or omissions, that we'd contact them ASAP. The letter recommends that we take out Missing Beneficiary Insurance; as we don't know the size of the Estate, its impossible to determine the cost of this; typically, what is the cost of this for an estate worth, say, 100-200,000?

    Worryingly, the letter states "if a policy is taken out one of the conditions is that no further enquiries into the family can be undertaken as they could invalidate the insurance". Is this true, if we take out insurance to protect against, basically, errors by the Heir Hunters, we have to stop research into this particular branch of the family??

    What irks me most, looking through the package of data that they sent us, although it largely validates my own previous research, it is full of glaring and obvious errors; they have my mother's birthday completely wrong for example. How can we be sure that this firm has done a proper job, or are they doing just enough to get paid, and then let the family shoulder the consequences of their sloppy research. Some people seem quite well researched, with precise birth dates, death dates etc, others, it really does look like they haven't tried all that hard, with too many "born about" "died about". What obligations are there on such companies when submitting data to solicitors? Do these companies also act as brokers for such insurance policies, and thats how they make extra money? I will be sending a stern email to this company, pointing out the obvious errors that I know of, and outlining my concerns. Any further advice?

  2. #2
    Loves to help with queries
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    I would question why you could possibly need an insurance policy. It implies either that the next step is for them to ask you for a contribution (possibly "towards expenses") or that if in the end, you do not gain anything, they will want you to claim on the policy to reimburse them.

    You know the name of your relative, you could enquire at the appropriate place about her estate, I can't see that you need to have anything to do with any of the heir hunters. Even those on television have a faint aura of vulture about them.

  3. #3
    Name well known on Brit-Gen
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    Sounds rather like they have picked various bits which may apply to your Family & gone for broke, hoping to have a new sucker on the line. Do you have a 'tree' in public view?

    Worryingly, the letter states "if a policy is taken out one of the conditions is that no further enquiries into the family can be undertaken as they could invalidate the insurance". Is this true, if we take out insurance to protect against, basically, errors by the Heir Hunters, we have to stop research into this particular branch of the family??
    Knowing nothing of such things this reeks of ..........?
    Who has the authourity to stop any further enquiries into Family of yours? Is it just to prevent notice of fraud?

    Ooo-er!
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  4. #4
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    I would question why you could possibly need an insurance policy
    The purpose of the insurance is surely clear. If any other beneficiaries emerge at a later date, they would have a claim against the questioner (or whoever in the family is the beneficiary) and there would be legal costs in handling the claim. The insurance would cover the legal costs and the amount of the claim.

    The premium would be calculated on an assessment of the risk. This is why there should be no further research - it affects the risk to the insurer and the likelihood of having to pay out.

    Like most insurance, it's up to the questioner whether or not he wants to bear the risk himself.

  5. #5
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    The obvious drawback in going with the professional firms is that they take a sizeable chunk of the money (I think I've seen 30% or more quoted), though when you see from the programme how much work they do "on spec" you can see why. The one person and dog firm working above a shop may do no worse, for much less. I'm surprised that they took 18 months, as the programmes give the impression that it's all done and dusted before the next week's bona vacantia list comes out. Of course I didn't believe a week, but 18 months seems excessive unless it's a very complicated estate.

    I suppose you might be able to use the errors to get out of the contract and submit your own claim, but it seems hardly ethical to do so now. There have been cases on the HH programme where the government people threw out a claim for insufficient evidence, and "died about"s look worrying. You would do well to check what you can a.s.a.p. You might want to ask the mods whether it's OK for people here to help with lookups in these circumstances.

    As to the insurance, if you're not so desperate for cash you have to spend it all at once, then unless it's very cheap, just keep a bit aside earning interest. I think there's a 7-year(?) limit for other people to claim. I'm not sure whether you would have to pay the "new" beneficiary's legal costs on top of their portion. AIUI such costs come out of the total estate unless you attempted some fraud (like concealing a beneficiary the HH company didn't find).

    I can't see how anyone can stop you personally pursuing further research as a hobby, though to avoid the moral/legal dilemma of finding a missing beneficiary or even a will, you might prefer not to. In one of the programmes a will turned up at the last moment undoing everything. Possibly the letter means that the HH firm isn't allowed to do any more work, but why would they anyway?

    The Usenet group uk.legal.moderated would be a better place to ask legal questions, but they'll tell you there that free advice is worth just what you paid for it, and you to be sure you need to pay your own solicitor.

  6. #6
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    My two penny worth would be to ask a solicitor to look at the contract and tell you whether or not you have a case for terminating it, on say the basis, that they are not exercising appropriate professional skill, and /or the fact that it seems to be going on for ever.

    I have never heard of the insurance mention and again I would ask a solicitor what they thought. There are plenty of examples of insurance policies being mis-sold or being virtually unclaimable under.

    I don't know whether you know if the firm you have signed up with are the sole agents making claims on that estate. If there are a dozen potential claimants then there could numerous people making claims, which might explain why its taking so long.

    You can find out more on the Treasury Solicitors web site: www.
    bonavacantia.gov.uk/output/estates-list.aspx

  7. #7
    Always willing to share my ignorance... busyglen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Doran View Post
    You might want to ask the mods whether it's OK for people here to help with lookups in these circumstances.
    Personally, I think this could be rather dangerous as you would be publicising information for others to see.

  8. #8

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    I've since been in contact with the researchers concerned. I'd like to clarify its not up to me to determine whether a solicitor etc is needed.

    Firstly, they've apologized for the obvious errors I've detected, and these have been corrected; reasons have been given, that I think, for the moment, I'll take at face value.
    The individuals that don't have much in the way of details, or which are vague are either people identified as not being important to the claim (eg husbands, wives of heirs) or are heirs who have opted to claim on their own, or are going via another firm (looks like maybe 80% are signed up with the same firm as my mother).
    What is going to the Solicitors is a full package of documentation; certificates etc.
    The Administrator of the estate apparently decides if insurance is needed; and I suppose thats based on the quality of the claims coming before him. The Heir Hunters circulate the tree to the relatives, to give them a chance to spot obvious errors, and so corrections can then be sent to the solicitors/administrators; with that in mind, I have contacted other members of the family (at least those that want to be contacted) to take a careful look at the document; they may spot errors I have missed. Not everyone is interested in family history.
    The Insurance does not stop private family history research. If insurance is taken out, (and it sounds like the Administering Solicitors are satisfied that all the heirs have been identified), the Heir Hunters have to prepare a second report/search for the insurers.
    If someone does make a claim, the Administrator has to basically get back 100% of the estate; bear in mind, the heirs, for the most part, don't actually receive the full 100%, because of fees. Lets hope the Cats Home doesn't put in a claim.

    I am happier with the answers given. As for DIY; yes that was something I was aware of when this process was started, but frankly, we've all got busy lives. 5% was a reasonable charge, considering the expected size of the estate, the number of heirs, the numbers of certificates that need to be ordered @ 25 a pop. Hopefully, when this is all done, I can get copies of the certificates for free off them.

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