HeirSearch Executives Share Forensic Genealogy Insights
HeirSearch’s most recent article series overviews what we believe are essential guidelines when hiring a professional heir search firm. We touched on factors like our distinct fee structure and global search capabilities that elevate HeirSearch’s services as a proven industry performer. And with your fiduciary responsibilities top of mind, the decision of selecting which heir search firm to hire is hugely consequential.
This month we engaged two members of HeirSearch’s senior executive team: Suzanne Simpson, VP Sales and Marketing, and Tim Rodenbush, President and Founder.
Herein, Suzanne and Tim highlight HeirSearch’s unmatched commitment to detail, diligence, and ensuring client success, as well as some common challenges encountered during heir searches and our verified methods for overcoming them consistently.
NOTE: The discussion below has been edited from previously conducted interviews with Suzanne and Tim.
What is the typical starting point when undertaking a new search? How many years back in time does HeirSearch investigate?
Suzanne: The place to start would be to speak with any known family and friends of the deceased. They might have specific documentation or data to help narrow down a search. Those interviews/discussions might provide specific documentation or data to help narrow down a search. That first step might also establish records or information later needed to verify identities and familial connections across generations and geographies.
HeirSearch accesses various online databases to obtain records, but they are not sufficient on their own. We may also access other types of records from government offices, which are made available to us by way of a letter of authority provided by our client.
Tim: When conducting a search, our firm wouldn’t typically research information more than a hundred years outdated to identify an estate’s rightful heirs or beneficiaries. In the heir search business, to locate the living heir(s), you may research information relating to the grandparents of a deceased person, but you infrequently would need to go as far back as the descendants of great grandparents or great great grandparents.
What kinds of documentation does HeirSearch seek throughout a search?
Tim: We search for documents in both public and private records.
Public records include census records, birth records, death records, marriage records, and the like. We compile these alongside evidence we obtain through interviews with individuals such as friends and family members.
An example of a private record would be a city directory that, in the past, provided local information on each household. We would look to those types of private records to see whether or not the information that existed in the public records, like the census, was supported by information discovered in private records.
Suzanne: This is where our distinct research expertise comes in. You can have all this documentation, but how you put it together and make your report accurate is essential to the courts and our clients. We have to be absolutely certain that we’ve analyzed all available records and resolved any potential conflicts.
What are some of the most common challenges HeirSearch encounters?
Suzanne: The primary challenge is that personal information often changes over time. Heirs’ names are sometimes changed. People use nicknames, there are spelling changes along the way (for example, a family’s last name may have been anglicized through the immigration process), or dates of birth can be inconsistent. There are some instances where heirs are experiencing homelessness and have no known address. We need to go through all that information and provide reliable, skillfully correlated, interpreted, and documented evidence with sufficient proof.
Tim: We also face the challenge of distinguishing ourselves from heir hunter services. These firms may scour court records to find intestacies and locate the missing heirs as quickly as possible. They then enter into contracts with the heirs, usually charging a percentage of their inheritance, ranging between 30% and 50%.
For example, let’s say you have an estate where the inheritance is $100,000 – a percentage-based search firm would often demand a $30,000 to $50,000 windfall fee. At HeirSearch, we’ll provide the same service to estate administrators for fees typically ranging between $3,000 and $6,000 thus, ensuring the rightful heirs receive as much as they’re entitled to. Of course, on larger estates, the savings realized by the heirs are much greater. When working with HeirSearch, probate professionals can always be confident they’re protecting their clients’ best interests.
What advice do you have for legal professionals in the Trust and Probate practices?
Suzanne: As legal professionals, you should encourage your clients to talk to their families about maintaining accurate documentation for their heirs. Keeping this information, like addresses and contact information, up-to-date is important. People move. Things happen. If you compile family records and knowledge in advance, it’s really helpful when probating an estate.
Tim: I will add that if your client is donating a large sum outside their family, it’s a good idea to review and understand what the state regulations and laws are for notice before they pass away. HeirSearch can undertake a search in this circumstance where notice can be provided as part of the probate’s procedure. That way, there’s no uncertainty later should someone decide to contest the will after they hear about the funds.
Do you need help establishing Heirship?
HeirSearch’s professional researchers help identify and locate missing or unknown beneficiaries and heirs for probate. We work exclusively with executors, administrators, trustees, fiduciaries, bank and trust officers, and their counsel to establish kinship for legal purposes.
Since 1967, we’ve successfully completed tens of thousands of worldwide searches. We are proud to offer no-cost, no-obligation consultations, court-ready documents, and reasonable, non-percentage-based fees.
Feel free to reach out with any questions — we look forward to connecting!
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