The heir hunters: No will and no known next of kin – what happens next?

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It’s relatively easy to make a Will. This month it’s even easier as you can get your Will sorted in exchange for a donation to charity thanks to the efforts of Will Aid. Yet an astonishing 50 percent of people put it off, sometimes forever. So what happens then…?

 

The unfortunate thing is that if you die with no Will and no known next of kin, you could simply be handing your entire estate to the state – now I doubt there are many people who would be happy with that prospect!

 

The names of people who die intestate (with no will) and with no known next of kin are added to the government’s Bona Vacantia list (this literally means ‘vacant goods’). If no one makes a legal claim to the estate then it goes to the state. In 2015 the government made an incredible £12 million in unclaimed inheritances.

 

This is where Finders International - specialist probate genealogists or ‘heir hunters’, come in.

 

As soon as a name appears on the Bona Vacantia list (updated daily), a chain of events and expert research is put into motion that will determine where the money eventually ends up.

 

We choose names from the list and begin to trace a family tree. This is fast-paced work with more than a touch of the detective about it. Using our highly skilled team of probate researchers we will normally uncover relatives within just a couple of days. As soon as we find potential claimants, we must verify their identities and relationship to the deceased. Then we search for assets.

 

The government recently scrapped its Will search service in cases where there is no known next of kin, so of course, we also do a thorough search for a Will, but surprisingly only find one in about every five cases. 

 

Relatives have 12 years to come forward and claim their inheritance and will be paid interest on the money. The ultimate deadline is 30 years, although this is at the discretion of the Government Legal Department.

 

In the majority of cases there are living and entitled next of kin somewhere; they may be very distantly related or living abroad and may never have even heard of the deceased, but they are still the legitimate beneficiaries. 

 

Unfortunately, with no Will we’ll never know what deceased’s exact wishes were. Intestacy law is very strict, so unless you spell it out in a Will, the people you might like to leave something to such as a loving carer, a favourite charity, a loyal friend, helpful neighbour and so on, will not be entitled to a penny. The irony is that someone you’ve never heard of or met could ultimately be the beneficiary.

 

Most people know whom they’d like their money or possessions to go to in the event of their death, so isn’t it easier just to write a Will and make sure?

 

Daniel Curran is managing director of Finders International, a specialist probate geneologist firm with offices in London, Edinburgh and Dublin. Stars of the BBC’s Heir Hunter’s TV series, Daniel and his team are regularly faces of the small screen. For more information visit:www.findersinternational.co.uk

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