The BBC is starting a new series which examines one of the more unusual consequences resulting from when a person dies without a will.
When someone dies without writing a will, also known as dying inestate, their estate will usually be transferred to any members of the family who are known. It will be divided up among the next of kin when payment of taxes, duties and other liabilities has been made.
But sometimes, when the family and the deceased have become estranged, it can lead to difficult circumstances where family members may miss out on their inheritance.
Hunting for an heir
'Heir Hunters', a new programme from the BBC, is attempting to track down the families of people who have died without a known family or a will. They have a limited time frame in which to find the heirs before the inheritance passes on to the Treasury.
Probate researchers, like Fraser and Fraser from the programme 'Heir Hunters', are often called in when difficulties arise from a deceased without a will.
People often become estranged for many reasons, ranging from arguments to emigration and a probate researcher aims to re-connect families that have lost touch with one another.
"When there is no will, we delve into family history with the object of finding out who actually are the next of kin, and where they are living. Then we provide evidence of their rightful inheritance which will prove their claim," the company said.
As consumers might expect, costs for this service can be high as they are based on the success of an entitlement claim; although potential heirs are unlikely to be charged if their claim is unsuccessful.
Probate researchers will contact heirs and ask them to sign a contract. This deal often involves signing a contract entitling the researchers to a specific share of the inheritance, despite the fact that heirs may not know how the inheritance is actually valued.
After taxes and the payment of debts, the heir is likely to receive a sum dependent on four factors, Fraser and Fraser revealed.
It will depend on the probate law of the country in which the person died, the number of beneficiaries involved, the relationship to the deceased and the value of the estate.
Ultimately, while probate researchers often provide families with a nice financial surprise, writing a will is the cheapest and most convenient way of ensuring your estate goes to the right hands.
Be it family, friends, or even a charity, writing a will ensures that your estate will end up where it is intended, regardless of the cut taken by the taxman or debt collectors.
Published on: July 10, 2008