How to work effectively with your friendly neighbourhood probate genealogist
Probate genealogists are widely regarded as a go-to resource to locate missing beneficiaries. Nick Beetham of Moore Probate Research looks at a handful of cases where trust and estate practitioners needed specialist help to identify and locate beneficiaries, new clients and other relevant people.
It’s not every day that you’ll have difficulty finding a missing beneficiary or other person relevant to the file you’re working on and, without dedicated in-house resources to help when you do, it’s usually helpful to employ specialist outside assistance. At Moore Probate Research, our clients are trust and estate practitioners based all around the UK and they come to us for help in locating beneficiaries of different sorts: examples include the clearly identified pecuniary legatee who’s moved house once or twice too often since the will was drafted; perhaps a gift of residue has failed and there’s no gift-over clause so the unknown statutory next-of-kin will take on the partial intestacy. Similarly, where you’re dealing with a fully intestate estate and the family picture isn’t 100% clear, we’ll be asked to confirm the situation as it’s thought to be or, more often as it turns out, establish the true position.
Sometimes time is of the essence. A case came to us from a solicitor in the west country. The will of her deceased gave a six-figure cash legacy to a former partner of the deceased, conditional on them coming forward or being located within a short period of the death. The will gave the legatee’s forename and (very commonly occurring) surname and a partial address which had been many years out of date when the will was drafted. We showed that the beneficiary had married, twice, changing her name at each, and had lived at number of addresses around the UK. It was gratifying to report to our client that we had correctly identified and found the legatee – she was touched to have been remembered in her old flame’s will – and the matter was dealt with swiftly and cost effectively.
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Statutory will application
Time can also be a critical factor on statutory will cases, where it’s necessary to join the statutory next-of-kin to the application so that they can be heard should they wish to object to the terms of the will. More and more practitioners are approaching us for help in establishing the composition of the protected person’s family and the whereabouts of its members and, especially where the protected person is extremely frail, we can prioritise the matter to help our client make the application as soon as possible. In these cases, the effect of our work can be to disinherit relatives who would otherwise take on the intestacy so, although the research on these cases is identical to that on intestacies, we take a different approach to managing the case, explaining to the family members we locate that our client is making an application to court on behalf of their relative.
Occasionally, you’ll come across an intestate estate which appears to be bona vacantia. If you’d like to administer this estate (and someone’s going to…), it will be necessary to locate an eligible family member who can instruct you*. A genuinely bona vacantia estate – where there is no surviving family member eligible to take on the intestacy – will devolve to the Crown or either of the Duchies of Cornwall or Lancaster. The reality is that because of our generous intestacy provisions (there are eight classes of kin entitled in priority to the Crown and Duchies) and the national demographic (almost everybody has relatives – whether they like it or not!) such estates will almost always yield heirs, any of whom can instruct you in the administration. Our role is to identify and locate the relevant family members, who will be new clients for your firm, without exposing you to unrecoverable costs. Usually, we’ll locate two administrators, in case of minor interests.
Quite rightly, practitioners look for transparency and value, so a time-based fee structure, with a highly competitive hourly rate makes sense. We don’t start work until we’re explicitly instructed to do so on the basis of agreed fees and can proceed at our client’s option on a time spent basis, fixed fee basis or capped fee.
Comparing service providers
The market for probate genealogists’ services is well supplied. It makes sense to work with a firm with all the available research tools and the necessary expertise to get the most from them as well as the usual professional indemnity and other insurances you’d expect from a professional business. When choosing a provider, many practitioners will, quite rightly, shop around on price. Compare hourly rates and look for a firm that will give you an honest estimate of how many hours your problem will take to solve – the combination will give a good price comparison. To stand out in the market, it’s necessary to be competitive on price and deliver excellent client service – on our clients’ terms. It’s a real privilege to be put to the test for the first time by a possibly nervous, perhaps slightly sceptical new client and deliver the desired outcome, exemplary client service and outstanding value for money.
You can reach Nick on 020 8533 4982 or email@example.com
* An alternative approach is to apply to the probate registrar for an order under s.116 Supreme Court Act – we can help support your application.
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