Missing Beneficiaries: What you need to know…better

What really happens “behind the scene” when probating an intestate estate and an unsolicited and unauthorized “Heir Hunter” becomes involved in a search for missing heirs or beneficiaries?

Not surprisingly this is a common occurrence because, there is a potential for “windfall” profit for the heir hunter… at the direct expense of the rightful heirs and, potentially, to your firm.

Heir Hunters (percentage-based “professional” heir searchers) represent the majority in the heir tracing industry.

Typically, this is how heir hunters work:

As soon as public record information is filed relating to an intestate estate of a certain minimum size, heir hunters will begin working “behind the scene” to locate the missing beneficiaries or heirs (without your direct authorization and in spite of any authorized search you have already initiated). Often, multiple percentage based heir hunters will start independent searches trying to “get there first.”

Once they locate missing beneficiaries, they attempt to negotiate a contract with them for fees based on a percentage of their share of the estate, before telling the beneficiaries the amount at stake. The fee sought by the heir hunter is typically 33% and, in some cases as much as 50% of the inheritance.

This method of compensation is often referred to by heir hunters as “no fee to the estate.” While such a reference is technically correct, it is very misleading for the following reason. In that scenario, the financial cost to the heir is generally multiples of the typical fees charged by a “non-percentage based” search firm. Many beneficiaries faced with that circumstance feel pressured to sign the agreement because they are told that “time is of the essence” and by not signing the commission agreement as soon as possible, the heir hunter cannot guarantee that information would ever become available from any other source. This, of course, is rarely the case because time is not generally “of the essence” and the beneficiaries will be usually be found in due course… at significantly less cost.

Moreover, heir hunters are typically mostly concerned with signing individually located beneficiaries to their percentage based contracts (before another heir hunter comes on the scene) than what they are with compiling a full family tree, proving the identities of all heirs and each person’s right of heirship to the estate being probated. With that in mind, when accepting the unsolicited results of an heir hunter there is risk, to the probate attorney, that all rightful heirs may not have been adequately researched and that later, once the estate has been probated, other rightful heirs could come forward claiming a breach of fiduciary responsibility to them by accepting an heir hunter’s claim that all heirs were accounted for.

When you choose as your authorized heir search firm you can be assured that all rightful heirs and beneficiaries will be accounted for and that the fees charged for our professional search services will be reasonable and non-percentage based. Established in 1967 – At We Find Missing Heirs A Better Way®

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