Heir hunting has become a popular and highly lucrative industry over the last couple of decades.
In theory, helping to locate heirs who may not realise that they are legally due to benefit from an estate sounds like a commendable thing to do. However, some companies have seen the commercial opportunity that this practice offers and have used legally dubious tactics to ensure that they take a significant share of people’s inheritance.
Heir hunters operate by identifying the estates of people that have died without making a Will. In these instances, their estate will legally pass to family members under the rules of intestacy. However, if the family is not particularly close or have lost contact with one another, they may not realise that they should legally inherit the estate. Heir hunters locate people that they believe could be a beneficiary of the estate and aim to convince them to appoint them, in return for a percentage of the estate’s value.
Title Research has campaigned for a number of years about what we see as an unfair practice that can result in members of the public being forced to sign over significant amounts of their inheritance, without having a clear understanding of the options available to them. We want to raise awareness of these practices so that members of the public can make informed decisions should they be contacted by an heir hunter.
What should I do if an heir hunter approaches me?
We recommend that you seek independent legal advice before signing any paperwork from an heir hunter. Call Title Research on 0345 87 27 600 if you would like to speak to us for free and impartial advice before making any decisions.
What if I am told that I need to act quickly in order to secure my inheritance?
If you feel that you are being pressured into making a decision, explain that you want to review the information to make an informed decision. Some heir hunters have been known to use ‘high pressure’ sales tactics as they are competing with other heir hunters to find someone to appoint them to work on the estate. If you feel that are being pushed into making a decision, tell the heir hunter that you do not feel comfortable with this approach.
Should I speak to other family members?
We recommend that you make contact with other family members to discuss the matter. It is quite possible that they will have also been contacted about the estate and could be legally entitled to a share of it as well. Working together as a family can help you make a considered decision about the best route forward for all of you.
Do I have to appoint an heir hunter to access my inheritance?
No, you can find out about your legal entitlement by carrying out research yourself or by appointing a professional genealogist to do this work on your behalf. The difference between using a genealogist and an heir hunter is that they will probably offer their services for a fixed fee that is agreed up front, rather than a percentage of the unknown estate value.
If you are in need of any advice regarding heir hunters, you can speak to our client services team on 0345 87 27 600
Topics: Genealogical research, Title Research, Heir hunters, Ethical approach