People often ask us, ‘What should I do if I’m contacted by heir hunters?’
A lot of people may have watched Heir Hunters on television. It is a series following the work of probate researchers as they look for the heirs of people who have died without a Will, leaving large sums of money unclaimed.
There are many people that sadly die without a Will, and so-called heir hunter companies try to locate those who are entitled to the estate. However, these companies often charge a substantial fee for their service.
At Slee Blackwell, we recently assisted a client, Mr N, who was contacted by an heir hunter. Mr N was told that he was not only a beneficiary of an estate, but could also take on the role as the administrator.
Even though the heir hunters had only undertaken a small amount of investigation to find Mr N, they nevertheless asked him to sign a contract which would give them 20% of his entitlement of the estate.
At this stage, Mr N did not have any details of the estate or whether the estate was solvent. Mr N therefore approached our firm for advice on what he should do.
Our top tips, which we shared with Mr N, are as follows:
- Think about whether you could locate the estate yourself. It isn’t always difficult to do this and you could start by checking out the list of unclaimed estates on the GOV.UK website.
- As a beneficiary/administrator of an estate, you are entitled to know what assets and liabilities are in the estate from the outset of your involvement. You should make sure that the assets exceed any liabilities, otherwise you could find yourself dealing with an insolvent estate.
- You do not need to instruct the heir hunter (or their legal representatives) to assist you with administering the estate. If you are the administrator then you are free to deal with the estate yourself or to appoint a solicitor of your own choosing. This can be cheaper, as heir hunters fees for administering an estate can range from a fixed fee to a percentage of the estate (sometimes as high as 40%).
- Unclaimed estates can remain unclaimed for 30 years after death. Accordingly there is no rush to make decisions. Heir hunters can be very good at putting pressure on people or imposing deadlines for decisions which are unnecessary.
- Bear in mind that there may be other eligible beneficiaries with whom the inheritance will need to be shared.
- Take legal advice from a trusted a solicitor about your options before committing. At Slee Blackwell we offer a free initial meeting to discuss the estate and can provide you for a quote for any work so you know from the outset how much you will be paying.
So, if you have been left wondering, ‘What should I do if I’m contacted by heir hunters?’ then we are here to help.