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Changing family dynamics: The importance of family tree verification

At Title Research, we always recommend that Personal Representatives get family trees professionally verified when dealing with an intestate estate. On numerous occasions, we have seen our clients come very close to a misdistribution, where the Personal Representative would have subsequently been liable if there were any claims against the estate. By professionally verifying the family tree, Personal Representatives can ensure that everyone who is entitled to the estate is included and those unentitled are excluded.

A good example of avoiding misdistribution is a recent intestacy case we worked on where we were instructed to verify the Deceased’s paternal family. The estate was expected to be passed to the class of whole blood Aunts and Uncles or passed on to their issue if predeceased. During our research of the paternal family, we found 14 potential heirs. On the maternal side of the family, the Personal Representative was believed to be the only heir.

However, during the estate administration process, the only believed maternal heir sadly died before distribution. As a result, we were asked to verify the maternal side of the family tree so our client could acquire missing beneficiary insurance. The work was predicted to be straightforward but we quickly realised that this was not the case. We located 62 maternal heirs in total, resulting in 76 entitled heirs overall.

This is certainly not the first time we’ve discovered additional unknown heirs and prevented a client from misdistribution. As family relationships become increasingly complex, it makes family tree verification more important than ever. Today, we’re frequently asked for advice and guidance in verifying or reconstructing family trees due to complex family dynamics.

In the past, a couple would get married, have children and then die but this is no longer the case. We now more frequently come across children who are born with a different mother or father to their siblings, and children where their parents never married. If you’re not an experienced genealogical researcher, it can be difficult to unravel families of this kind.

Another change in family dynamics which makes family tree verification more complicated is the rise in adoption. When adoption became legal in 1927, adopting in or out of the family was a rare occurrence. Between 1927 and 1946, only four volumes of indexes were required to document adoptions. However, by 1963, one volume was needed for every year and now, a volume is needed for every quarter. This highlights the growing frequency of adoption and how it is much more socially acceptable and openly discussed today.  

The number of people getting married has been gradually decreasing since World War II which creates new challenges for genealogists. As mentioned above, children born outside of marriage can make genealogical research more complicated, as well as smaller families where there are not as many relatives to verbally verify the family tree.

Same-sex couples were given the right to obtain the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage under the Civil Partnership Act of 2004. Then, same-sex marriage became fully legalised in England and Wales from March 2014 as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was created. These changes in legislation are beginning to impact genealogical work as a same-sex couple could marry each other and adopt a child. Therefore, we can no longer solely rely on marriage and birth records so all eventualities must be covered off to ensure accuracy.

Our genealogy experience spans over 50 years and in that time we’ve learnt that family trees are not always as they seem. If you’ve been presented with an intestate estate, we highly recommend that you get a complete family tree professionally verified or appoint an experienced genealogist to reconstruct the family tree if you’re presented with an incomplete tree. This will ensure that the estate is correctly distributed so there’s no risk to the Personal Representative.

Title Research offers both family tree reconstruction and verification services so if you need any advice on mitigating risk on intestacy, call our client services team on 0345 87 27 600 or email info@titleresearch.com.

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Title Research

Spectrum House, Bond Street,
Bristol, BS1 3LG, DX 78114
T +44 (0) 345 87 27 600
F +44 (0) 333 2057011
E info@titleresearch.com