Contingency vs Time and Expense

Contingency, fixed or time and expense: What fee type is the best option for genealogical research?

Mar 13, 2019 11:08:00 AM

When instructing a professional genealogist firm to carry out genealogical research work on your behalf, it can be difficult to determine what costs are reasonable, whether the cost is clear from the outset and if it’s the best choice for you and your client. This informative blog post takes a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the three main approaches to fees; contingency, time and expense, and fixed.

Contingency fees

A contingency fee arrangement is where the genealogist undertakes the work, identifies the beneficiaries and then agrees with those beneficiaries that they will take a share of their entitlement when the estate is distributed. The genealogist is taking a risk that they will only be paid if they locate the missing people, and those people agree to sign the contingency agreement. However, the resources available to a genealogist now mean that most, if not all, missing people can be successfully located.

In many cases, the contingency fee is not proportionate to the amount of time and effort involved in the work, especially when it comes to estates that are of a high value.

If the personal representative has instructed genealogists and agreed to contingency fees without the involvement of all known beneficiaries, it can result in problems further down the line as the amount of inheritance the beneficiaries are due to receive may have significantly decreased. It is estimated on average genealogists will charge 20% of an individual's inheritance, so for a beneficiary due to receive £80,000, the cost to locate them under a contingency fee could cost £16,000. Title Research trace missing beneficiaries in the UK for a fixed-fee of £399 plus VAT and disbursements, regardless of the estate value or individual's entitlement.

Time and expense based fees

Time and expense based fees are typically calculated by the number of hours spent on completing the work and the amount spent on expenses during the work. This is probably the most traditional pricing method in the legal sector but it often leaves the personal representative unsure of what the cost is going to be overall. Although, the advantage of this approach is that the cost directly reflects the actual time spent on the task at hand.

Time and expense based fees can be more effective when an estimated budget is set before the work begins. An experienced genealogist will be able to set a realistic budget depending on how long they expect the work to take. If the work is completed under budget, you would not be required to pay the full amount. On the other hand, if the budget was reached before the work was completed, it’s likely that the genealogist would come back with an update on what work is still outstanding and suggest an additional budget. It would then be your decision on whether to increase the budget or not.

Fixed fees

When a fixed fee is offered, you and your client will know exactly what you are paying from the outset. There should be no hidden surprises, even if the work takes longer than expected. In some cases, if the work is not successfully completed, the fee may be refundable.

A fixed fee solution offers complete transparency from the start and can help ensure that more money is left in the estate. The only disadvantage of this approach is that if the work turns out to be less than predicted, it’s unlikely that the fee would be reduced. However, genealogists are likely to offer competitive prices that accurately represent the work involved.

At Title Research, we do not offer contingency fees as we believe that the cost should be calculated based on the work involved, rather than the value of an estate. We believe it’s essential to be open about pricing so our clients have complete clarity on the service we’re providing and the cost involved. We offer our services on either a fixed fee or time and expense basis. If we offer time and expense based fees, we will always set a budget in order to be transparent and open about our pricing.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Title Research’s genealogical research services, call our client services team on 0345 87 27 600 or email

Topics: Contingency Fees, Ethical approach, Transparency, Time and Expense