It would be a crying shame to lose your entire estate to the government, especially after managing your tax affairs diligently all your life. Pity the poor executor without a will to follow, and letters of administration instructing them to distribute the assets according to the laws of succession.
Fading photos on the mantelpiece and old school reports may suggest the late lamented had a daughter. But where do you start, when a bunch of letters tied up in a bow suggest the daughter loves to travel and could be almost anywhere.
That’s When Probate Research Could Come to the Rescue
We’ll imagine the estate is worth £ millions, and there are ample funds in the kitty to pay a probate researcher’s hefty retainer. But first, what do these people actually do to earn their keep?
Well they are, we suppose a form of specialised private detective: Although they are more likely to be tapping a computer keyboard, than following a bloodhound with a magnifying glass. They have various starting points where they could look for heirs.
# There may be no known heirs although it’s more likely there are some to find
# Perhaps there may be proof those heirs exist, but they appear to have vanished
# Maybe, half the descendants are quite easy to find, while the rest are a mystery
It’s a probate hunter’s job to trace the deceased person’s next of kin, or closest relative. They are not necessary blood relatives of course. The relationship may have been acquired through marriage, or adoption.
How the Laws of Succession and Inheritance Vary Around a Theme
Forensic genealogists – another fancy name for probate researchers – need to understand the laws of inheritance in the applicable jurisdiction. The principles are similar in the old British colonies, although each Australian, Canadian and U.S. State / Self-Governing Territory has its own particular tweaks.
That’s because laws of inheritance specify exactly, and in what proportion an estate is divided where there is no will. Probate detective work must therefore be precise. It must use objective techniques including public records and databases to hunt down possibilities.
The Long and Winding Road That Leads to Next of Kin
Probate researchers often start with just a name and a date of birth. Birth and marriage certificates may link to relatives above, below and even laterally to the succession line. These may lead in turn to next of kin who never even knew they had the relative.
Most times solicitors engage probate detectives they worked with before. However, these sleuths may also proactively search public records where someone died without an heir. Probate may be an emotional matter for close relatives. However, it is just another way to earn money for some.
Do Probate Researchers Have a Future in the Modern World?
One might have thought public records on the internet would have done away with the need for them. However we have seen suggestions their business may be thriving.
This may be due to the disintegration of extended families, or increasing mobility in the global village. Whatever the case, it’s likely the government is still getting lucky from probate that goes nowhere slowly.