Searching for long lost heirs

October 27, 2008 Hull & Hull LLP Estate & Trust, Executors and Trustees, Litigation, Trustees Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

In Scotland for my honeymoon, I encountered a few different “estates”. Hiking the West Highland Way – averaging about 12 miles a day – we passed Blackmount Lodge, in the Bridge of Orchy. The lodge, owned by the Fleming family (of James Bond fame) sits on the edge of an idyllic loch. It took a day to walk across the estate.

Fellow walkers from Britain were interested to learn that I work in estate litigation. After sorting out differences in our terminology, they asked if “heir hunters” exist in Canada. I was intrigued.

While I still do not know the extent of “heir hunting” here, I learned that Heir Hunters is a BBC series that follows probate detectives who look for distant relatives of people who have died without making a will. I have not heard of a similar program in North America.

Several UK firms track down missing relatives: Fraser and Fraser  and Title Research are two examples. About 545,000 people die in Britain every year and half of them do not have a will. As in Ontario, there are rules in Britain which dictate that when people die intestate, their estate passes to the deceased’s legal next of kin. In Britain, if there is no family, the estate falls to the Crown.  The Guardian claims that £10 million to £20 million falls to the government every year because there is no one to claim the estate. Heir hunters locate the next of kin and alert them to their inheritance; there is a finder’s fee of up to 25% of the amount.

Many people in Canada can trace their roots to the United Kingdom. Estate practitioners, if advising estate trustees, would be well served to keep “heir hunting” firms in mind. 

Thank you for reading.  Enjoy your day.

Jonathan Morse

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