Changing family dynamics and the importance of family tree verification

 In Probate

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family treeWhen faced with an intestacy, Title Research has always recommended to Personal Representatives that family trees be professionally verified before any distribution takes place. Of course, from a commercial point of view we have a vested interest in encouraging this, but we have also seen many occasions when our clients have come close to a mis-distribution that was only avoided by thorough genealogical research being undertaken.

A recent intestacy we dealt with is a good example of this.  On this occasion, we were asked to verify the extent of the Deceased’s paternal family. The estate was known to be passing to the class of whole blood uncles and aunts, and their issue where predeceased. The Personal Representative was said to be the only maternal heir. We resolved the paternal family research and located 14 potential heirs. Prior to distribution, the Personal Representative sadly died and our client attempted to obtain missing beneficiary insurance. In order to do so we were asked to verify the maternal family as well.

This was expected to be a fairly short and straightforward piece of work, but, we very quickly realised that the one maternal heir was in fact one of 62 heirs on this side of the family, making 76 in total.

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Examples such as this happen fairly frequently and serve to demonstrate the importance of using a professional genealogist when dealing with intestate estates. However, what we are finding more frequently is that our clients are approaching us for help and guidance in unravelling family trees which have become more complex than perhaps they have seen previously.

Families are changing. Whereas in the past we expected to create family trees where individuals were born, married before having some children and then dying; this is no longer always the case.  Some of our more complex cases now involve children being born from relationships where a marriage did not take place, and children being born with different fathers or mothers than their siblings. Unravelling these families takes an experienced eye to ensure that only those who are genuinely entitled are included in an estate distribution. Of course, families may vary the intestacy rules by Deed of Variation to include non-blood relatives, but this does rely on the consent of all affected parties.

Adoptions, both in and out of the family also rely on experience to confirm. Legal adoption did not come into force until 1927 (1930 in Scotland). Any ‘adoptions’ before this date are therefore considered an informal fostering.  Getting to the bottom of family rumours and hearsay regarding who was and wasn’t adopted is vital in ensuring an accurate distribution.

Of course, adoption in the early years was rare – four volumes of indexes were required to cover the period 1927 to 1946, but by 1963 one volume was required for each year. Now, the records are arranged by quarter of a year. This demonstrates the increasing frequency of adoption that has changed from being very much a private affair, often used to cover up a family scandal, to today when adoption is much more openly discussed and is socially acceptable.

The rate of marriage in the UK has been declining since the end of the second world war. This presents a genealogist with new challenges – children born outside of marriage as mentioned above, but also smaller families provide us with less people to talk to in order to verify the family tree with oral evidence. The Civil Partnership Act of 2004 gave same sex couples the right to obtain the same rights and responsibilities as civil marriage.  The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalised full same-sex marriage in England and Wales starting from March 2014. These two changes in legislation are now starting to impact our genealogical work. For example, it is now possible for a same sex couple to marry, and subsequently adopt a child.  This child would then benefit on intestacy in the event of one of his or her parents predeceasing a Deceased. No longer can we rely on just searching marriage and birth records, we have to make sure that we cover off all possibilities to ensure complete accuracy.

As you can see, what may on the face of it appear to be a straightforward family tree is not always as it seems. Obtaining a professional verification by an experienced genealogist need not be costly, and the value of the work lies in ensuring a safe distribution with no risk to the Personal Representative. Genealogy is a specialist area, and an experienced genealogist is aware of all the risks that may present themselves and will be able to advise you as appropriate.

Title Research’s new FamilyChecker service is a completely fixed price family tree verification with inclusive insurance for complete peace of mind and comfort prior to distribution.  If you have a family tree that needs verifying then do get in touch for a no obligation discussion of your needs.

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