Ethical Heir Searching: How We Find Missing Heirs a Better Way™


By: HeirSearch

Estate planning and administration are inherently complex – and that complexity gets amplified when the process involves identifying and distributing assets to an estate’s heirs and beneficiaries. It requires meticulous attention to detail and a steadfast commitment to ethical principles to navigate with success.

Why? Maintaining high ethical standards ensures that all parties’ rights are upheld, ultimately allowing for an estate’s fair and lawful distribution. Ethical heir searches also tend to preserve more of the estate’s value for its rightful heirs vs. other often-criticized methods that can substantially impact the amount an estate’s heirs end up with after all is said and done.

In this article, we’ll explore the ethical considerations at play throughout an heir search and how HeirSearch’s Better Way upholds, promotes, and preserves these principles.

Ethics in Heir Searching: Doing the Right Thing

Locating unknown or missing heirs and beneficiaries involves investigating the personal histories of individuals who may be unaware of their lawful entitlements. The nature of these searches—including dealing with the estates of deceased individuals and being part of the process when it comes to the distribution of potentially substantial assets—highlights the need for a process built on strong ethics to foster client trust. Heir searchers are encouraged to follow the code of ethics from the Association of Professional Genealogists in order to maintain these ethical standards.

An important piece of context is understanding the search methods that some heir search firms called “heir hunters” employ, compared to those offered by non-percentage-based search service providers like HeirSearch:

  • Heir hunters typically focus on locating heirs to estates where the deceased did not leave a will, often relying on public records such as the government’s ‘unclaimed estates list’ or probate court filings with intestate estates with unknown heirs. To complete this process, heir hunters conduct an heir search and seek to sign the heir to a contract that charges a percentage of the heir’s inheritance, with rates averaging around 20% and, in some cases, as high as 40%.
  • In contrast, HeirSearch’s non-percentage-based fee structure means all costs are quoted in advance as determined by a set schedule and the search’s unique requirements – never as a percentage of the trust or estate and only conducted if authorized by the estate attorney. This model helps ensure that an estate’s rightful heirs receive much more of what they’re lawfully entitled to.

As you can see, percentage-based fees can substantially reduce the inheritance heirs receive and, depending on the estate’s value, blur ethical lines if the effort is disproportionate to the charges imposed.

Key Considerations for Ethical Heir Searches

Transparency in Search Practices

Transparency about the search methodology and the costs and expectations involved so clients can realistically approach the process is a key way to establish a strong ethical search foundation. Estate planners and administrators entrust search professionals with a significant responsibility that impacts the estate planning process, so being forthright ensures transparency throughout the process.

Open Communication with Clients

Open communication with clients is another important component of upholding strong ethical standards. Updating clients on progress, findings, and any new information found throughout the process—and quickly alerting them of any changes in scope—keeps them informed, reinforcing accountability across a search.

Adherence to Legal and Regulatory Standards

Heir search professionals searching in the U.S. operate within a complex legal landscape that varies from state to state. Being well-versed in and compliant with legal instructions provided by estate attorneys is a non-negotiable component of genuinely ethical practices.

HeirSearch Embodies Ethical Standards

HeirSearch remains committed to finding missing or unknown heirs and beneficiaries A Better Way, which embodies our open, transparent, and client-centric philosophy. Below are some of the ways we’ve built our reputation as one of the industry’s leading ethical search service providers.

Billing Model

Our fees are openly quoted in advance, determined by a set fee schedule tailored to the specific requirements of a search – never as a percentage of the estate’s value. This model mitigates uncertainty and potential conflicts of interest that besmirch percentage-based fee models.

Authorized Searches Only

We only conduct fully authorized searches initiated with explicit client consent or under contractual agreement. This policy is pivotal in preventing unauthorized searches that may breach ethical standards.

Documented Court-Ready Reports

HeirSearch provides comprehensive, documented, court-ready reports, offering clear and convincing evidence designed for legal proceedings. These reports include all available supporting documentation presented in a concise, accessible format. This ensures that our findings withstand legal scrutiny, providing our clients—and theirs—with an exhaustive research foundation.

How to Know You’re Working With an Ethical Firm

At HeirSearch, ethical standards are the bedrock of our integrity, guiding every aspect of our search process. We embody this commitment through transparent pricing, clear communication, compliance with regional legal standards, and conducting searches only with full authorization. This approach ensures our clients navigate the complexities of heir searches with the utmost confidence in our ethical practices.

We work with executors, administrators, trustees, fiduciaries, bank and trust officers, and their counsel to establish kinship for legal purposes. Since 1967, we’ve used forensic genealogy, an analytical research method, to complete tens of thousands of worldwide searches.

For legal professionals seeking an heir search that prioritizes ethical practices without compromise, HeirSearch offers unparalleled service and commitment with a 97% success rate.

Contact us to learn more about our process and how we can support your needs.

Phone: +1 (800)-663-2255


This report is for informational purposes only and is intended only as a reference. HeirSearch does not endorse or recommend any of the products or services offered in the third-party articles or content contained within. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or effectiveness of the same and will not assume any liability related to the same. Additionally, nothing contained herein may be construed as legal advice. All offers are void where prohibited by law. Copyright © International Genealogical Search Inc. All rights reserved.