Probate genealogists - our work explained

Founded in 1965, Title Research is one of the leading firms of probate genealogists in the UK. Probate genealogists (sometimes referred to as heir locators) specialise in finding missing heirs and beneficiaries who are entitled to receive money or assets from someone who has died. Every year Title Research unites millions of pounds worth of money and assets with over 3000 unsuspecting beneficiaries. Our clients range from probate solicitors to members of the public dealing with the estate of someone who has died. The value of estates can range from just a few thousand pounds, to millions of pounds. In 97% of cases we are successful in finding missing heirs.

Our research

By law, all reasonable steps must be taken to locate all beneficiaries to an estate before it can be distributed and the expertise of probate genealogists is often required. There are two types of missing beneficiary cases we tend to work on. Firstly, we trace beneficiaries named in a Will, usually in circumstances where the Will has been drafted many years ago and their last known address is no longer current. Very often the beneficiaries tend to be those entitled to a specific sum of money set out in the Will, such as god children, close friends or sometimes former work colleagues. Genealogical research can often be crucial in tracing relatives of beneficiaries who can put us in contact with the beneficiaries themselves.

Secondly, we trace the relatives of someone who has died without leaving a will. In the absence of assets being left to named beneficiaries in a Will, the law sets out which ‘class’ of family members must receive the assets of the Deceased. In England & Wales for example, priority is given to the spouse, followed by immediate family and their descendants and then uncles & aunts and their descendants. In many cases we deal with, the Deceased has no immediate family, so our task is to trace both paternal and maternal grandparents and then trace our way down through uncles and aunts and their descendants until we find living relatives entitled to inherit a share of the estate. Where we also differ from most genealogists is that we usually only research as far back as the grandparents’ marriages of the Deceased and then we research their children and below. Consequently, we rarely see or use records prior to the 1850s.

Asking family members the right questions, is vital to how quickly we can progress a case. However, no stone must be left unturned and documentary evidence is needed for all events. The consequences of missing a birth, marriage or death, not to mention divorces, adoptions and other vital records, could mean an entire family line is disinherited and lead to future claims against us for tens of thousands of pounds. We were recently asked by a solicitor to confirm that an elderly sister of the Deceased was the sole beneficiary of the estate. When we looked into it, we discovered the Deceased had 12 siblings, some of whom were still alive, and as you would expect, we found a great number of descendants of all the other siblings who will be entitled to a share of the estate.

Handling sensitive information

In the majority of cases we handle, the beneficiary is too distantly related to the Deceased to have much knowledge of them or may not be aware of them at all. However, some of our cases involve tracing beneficiaries who are siblings or even children of the Deceased, who have become estranged over many years due to family break down. Very often we are the first to break the news that a close relative has died. Family members may have very mixed feelings about receiving an inheritance from a close relative they have not been in contact with for many years. One of the questions we sometimes get asked is not, ‘how much money am I going to receive?’, but ‘can you tell me how they died?’ or ‘can you tell me where they are buried?’ Our Case Managers require the utmost tact and delicacy when handling these situations.

Vital records

Probate genealogists use a raft of records to trace down a family line or find living beneficiaries and the digitisation of records over the years has transformed the way we work, improving the accuracy and effectives of probate research. Title Research was at the forefront of digitising records a decade ago, through 1837.com, which was set up by Title Research in 2003 and subsequently sold in 2007 as findmypast.com. Using our own paper copies of the birth, marriage and death indexes, we were the first company to make these indexes available online for the public to use.

At the end of all of our cases is a human story where unsuspecting members of the public receive an unexpected windfall from someone they may have lost touch with or may never have even met. Sometimes these windfalls can be life changing or they may simply be small tokens of appreciation. Other times, extended families can be reunited through the family trees we produce and the money is immaterial to them. Whatever the outcome, there is no such thing as a dull case at Title Research.
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