Of the 500,000 people who die in Britain every year, more than half do not leave a Will.
For most, their estates will go to their next-of-kin under the Intestacy Rules, but about 4,000 people die alone with no Will or known relatives and their estates pass to the Crown.
Awareness of the role of probate genealogists was raised hugely in the popular BBC series Heir Hunters as it followed researchers competing to track down hidden beneficiaries of unclaimed estates listed by the Treasury Solicitor, for an agreed percentage of the inheritance which can range from anything between 15% and 33%.
Kreston Reeves is dealing with an estate where members of a local Church congregation asked us to intervene in the case of a lady who passed away without anyone knowing about her family or whether she had made a Will.
We contacted local solicitors and banks and conducted a very thorough search of her home looking for a Will, all to no avail. However, an old newspaper clipping referring to someone who had been a trawlerman in Norfolk was found in an envelope which led us to discover where her paternal relations hailed from. We telephoned people with the same surname living in that area and struck lucky when someone said they were a relation. With their help we quickly pieced together an almost complete family tree relating to the deceased father’s family which consisted of over 30 living relatives.
We have had less luck on the mother’s side of the family and so have now contacted two firms of respected genealogists who have agreed to search for the missing heirs on a contingency basis of 15% of the inheritance of each beneficiary that they locate, or be paid an hourly rate. It is vital that only those entitled receive a share of the estate when it is distributed, so we are also going to instruct the genealogists to check the accuracy of the family tree on the father’s side of the family.
Research has shown that where families carry out their own investigations, gaps or mistakes are made in around 40% of all cases. Interestingly, last year there was a 29% increase in successful kinship claims, which is put down partly to the interest provoked by the BBC programme. The heir-hunting industry flourishes due to the generosity of our intestacy provisions.
There are eight degrees of kin who have priority over the Crown, so in almost every estate there is almost certainly kin out there somewhere. Make sure it stays in your family by making sure you have a Will!