As a WWII pay officer in the Canadian military, my paternal grandfather met a British woman on the beach when he was stationed in the south of England. They married soon after the War and retired in England in the mid-1960s. My grandfather died in the early 1990s; when my step-grandmother, Tessa, died in 2008, in her Will she left her house to my father and aunt.
If there were no Will, Tessa’s estate could have contributed to the British government’s coffers. In that circumstance, a probate research firm could have played a role.
Title Research is one of the firms highlighted in yesterdays blog about "heir hunters". Its services include: searches for missing beneficiaries, heirs, and legal documents (such as marriage, birth and death certificates back to the 1800s); asset research to value, verify and find missing or unknown assets; missing beneficiary indemnity insurance; probate valuations; and will searches to determine that the Will is the deceased’s last will.
If Tessa had died intestate, Title Research, and other firms, could have located her heirs around the world. Alternatively, if the estate trustee had questions about the value of the estate assets, or had the trustee not known the whereabouts of the beneficiaries, it could have enlisted a search firm’s services as some anecdotes suggest.
Potentially trustees can protect their personal liability by engaging a firm that has a best practices endorsement of Britain’s Law Society. It seems that an estate need not just have ties to the UK, but the extent of a firm’s expertise in a specific jurisdiction would have to be assessed.
Interestingly, some of the detective work can be done by amateur sleuths: www.findmypast.com and www.ancestry.co.uk allow access to census data from the 1800s and a host of other historical information. If genealogy is in your blood, it’s a place to start. And, as one UK law firm suggests, it might be advisable to do some of your own investigating.
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.
Listen to Compensation for work done by estate trustees and solicitors.
This week on Hull on Estates, Paul Trudelle and Diane Vieira discuss compensation for work done by estate trustees and estate solicitors.
Rooney Estate v. Stewart Estate 2007 WL3019262 (Ont. S.C.J.), 2007 CarswellOnt 650
Listen to Dealing with Estate Planning
This week on Hull on Estate and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss dealing with estate planning and encouraging everyone to draw up a will.
Listen to Accounting Under the Powers of Attorney
This week on Hull on Estates, Diane and Paul discuss accounting under the powers or attorney, the duty to account after the guarantor has passed away and the De Zorzi Estate v. Read case (2008, O.J. No. 944).
Listen to Accounting
This week on Hull on Estate and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss how to prepare for review by the beneficiaries of the estate by keeping all accounts in order.
To open this week’s show, they remind listeners that they did this week’s episode of Hull on Estates (#110). They also extend their congratulations to Terry Fallis for winning the Stephen Leacock Medal for his book, The Best Laid Plans.
If you have any comments that you would like to share, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a message on our comment line: 206-457-1985. You can also find our blog at hullandhull.com.
Listen to Administration of the Assets of the Estate
This week on Hull on Estates and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss things to consider when administrating the assets of an estate and point out burdens of being and executor.
This week on Hull on Estate and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss trust planning options and anticipating issues that may arise in the future.