Have you ever seen the BBC programme Heir Hunters? It’s all about the work of professional people tracers. They look for the relatives of people who have died and have an inheritance to pass on. It’s called heir tracing.
It’s lovely to see the look of surprise on the people the BBC film. Sometimes they don’t even know the person was a relative.
Let’s Talk To Rik
Richard (Rik) Wooler one of our qualified investigators, not only deals with people tracing from Wills. He also coordinates beneficiary tracing for pension companies. I asked him to tell me about this area of Tremark’s work.
“We are often asked to trace people who are the beneficiaries of pension. It could be that a person has worked 2 or 3 years for a local authority and has paid into a private pension. But, they either forget about it or, they don’t think they are entitled to any money. That means they don’t contact the pension company. Then they move away. Then, the pension company can’t find them.”
“Online announcements are useful”, says Rik. “Not long ago we had a call from a firm of solicitors. They wanted to trace a beneficiary who was living in Wakefield, Yorkshire in the 1960s. We made some initial enquiries we found out that he had moved to Canada. Then we discovered he had died and so had his wife. This meant we needed to trace any other relatives he had”.
“We were lucky to find his obituary online. It gave the names of some of his relations and the details of the funeral home. We wrote to the funeral home and asked them if they could pass on a message to the deceased’s relatives, which they did”.
Finding a Beneficiary
“At first, the relatives were suspicious. This is normal. After all, you are telling people they have inherited money from a person they may not have known. There are so many scams around, it’s not surprising that we need to convince people we are genuine.”
“When we are sending the initial correspondence, we always direct them to Tremark’s website. We ask them to look at our industry accreditations. We are members of the Association of British Investigators. Tremark’s details are on their site.
“Tracing a family member, or various relatives takes a lot of research, time, and patience. It involves obtaining birth, death, and marriage certificates. We also look at electoral registers and local newspaper announcements. Another source of information that wasn’t available in the past is social media. You can find out a lot from a person’s Facebook page, which sometimes makes our research much easier.
If you are someone who has traced their family tree, then you’ll have an idea of what we have to do. The difference is we have to make a thorough investigation. This is because the personal representative of someone’s Will must try to find beneficiaries.
“For example, a beneficiary comes along a few years after the estate has been distributed. They claim their share. The personal representative may have to pay the person out of their own pocket. To protect themselves, the personal representative can take out insurance. But the insurers will want proof that no stone was left unturned in the search for beneficiaries.
Finding Living Relatives
“Not all cases are straightforward,” says Rik. “We had a case a while ago of a deceased gentleman with 10 children. This man was a beneficiary in a Will, but he had died. So, we were asked to trace all his living relatives. It took several months and eventually we were able to find 45 living relatives. It took a year to sort out and a vast amount of paperwork. We had to order birth, death and marriage certificates.”
“We dealt with the gentleman’s children, their children, and their children’s children. It was complicated. But, it gave me a great deal of satisfaction to see it through to the end.”
Men are easier to trace than women because they don’t usually change their names. (Although there has a been a few men who have made a change by Deed Poll). We trace women by searching the marriage records. If we find a record we then buy the marriage certificate. That gives us more detail because it will have the name of the woman’s father. Then we can confirm her maiden name. It will also have the woman’s address, which could be useful.
One case that comes to mind involved a lady who was due to inherit some money. We couldn’t find a marriage certificate, but we did find her mother’s name from her birth certificate. Further enquiries revealed that her mother had divorced her father. Later on, she remarried.”
“We still couldn’t find her under her birth name so, we decided to look under the name of her mother’s second husband. And, there she was. We doubled checked on social media and we confirmed it was her. The funny thing was, she only lived two streets away from the office, so we met her in person.”
Tracing beneficiaries is never boring. It’s nice to be the bearer of good news and bring a smile to someone’s face.