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Problems in family relationships complicate determination of heirs or delay notice to missing heirs.

An industry of unauthorized heir hunters exploits those problems by taking advantage of the unknown heirs and the current laws that don’t effectively prevent them from intentionally submitting inaccurate or incomplete heirship information through their attorneys (“on behalf of the heirs”).

Von Langen, LLC’s Case Studies are an opportunity for you to learn more about those problem cases of greatest concern to many clients as well as the solutions we offer. As you can see, these cases provide further insight into what your peers are doing to better control the heir search process and ensure a correct determination of heirship.

The Case Studies found on the pages to follow illustrate the importance of findings that can be relied upon and authorized experts who can perform your heir searches. By working together we can better protect the fiduciary as well as the heirs’ interests.

What We Can Do

We can provide you with reliable heir search expertise. We welcome you to share information of importance with respect to cases concerned with due diligence as pertains to determination of heirship, heir location services, or to express your views and enter into meaningful discussions.

– Without obligation and at no cost to you.

This website is intended as a “meeting place” for all probate professionals, including:

  • Administrators
  • Ad Litems
  • Attorneys
  • Conservators
  • Executors
  • Fiduciaries
  • Guardians
  • Judges
  • Law Clerks
  • Legal Assistants
  • Paralegals
  • Personal Representatives
  • Probate Court Staff
  • Public Administrators
  • Trustees
  • Trust Officers

This is an opportunity for those of us in the probate profession to share information and make our views known regarding the manner in which heirs are located.

By simply joining our round table discussions you can help us all deal with the issue of rampant and unauthorized heir hunting.

Problems Presented

The heirs of estates and trusts who are determined by reference to the state statute of descent and distribution have become the unfortunate targets of a class of entrepreneurial genealogists referred to as “heir hunters”…

  • Estate Researchers
  • Heir Chasers
  • Heir Finders
  • Heir Location Services
  • Heir Locators
  • Heir Searchers
  • Heir Tracers
  • Probate Researchers

Without authority of the probate court or that of the fiduciary administering the estate, these heir hunters contact heirs as quickly as possible. Typically, before fiduciaries are able to locate heirs, the heir hunters persuade them to sign contingent fee contracts assigning as much as 40 percent of the heir’s inheritance to the heir hunter (in most cases, the heir is not told of the decedent’s identity or given an accurate probable value of the inheritance). In exchange for this percentage, the heir hunter agrees to establish with the court the validity of the heir’s claim of inheritance at the heir hunter’s expense, including attorney fees.

A fiduciary who is duty bound to locate the heirs and, if necessary, authorize an investigator versed in forensic genealogy may not be able to fulfill their obligation to distribute the correct amount of inheritance due to interference by the heir hunters who for profit intentionally commit errors and omissions so as to thwart the fiduciary’s efforts in performance of their duties.

In effect, the heir hunter competes with the court and the fiduciary. Currently, there is no effective regulation of these heir hunters.

Solution Proposed

The Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law Section Board recommends to Von Langen, LLC’s Law Forum a proposal to add new sections to the states’ probate codes.

Laws permitting fiduciaries a reasonable period of time to find the heirs, beneficiaries, and devisees, including authorizing an investigator versed in forensic genealogy to assist in fulfilling the fiduciary’s obligation to conduct searches.

A fiduciary is duty bound to exercise reasonable diligence in an effort to locate the heirs and, if necessary, authorize an investigator or forensic genealogist who customarily works on either an hourly rate, time spent basis or for a percentage of the inheritance pursuant to agreed upon contingent fee contracts. This work by or for the fiduciary should be conducted as part of the estate administration, at a cost that would be less than the heir hunter’s percentage. Investigators or forensic genealogists who are authorized by fiduciaries are duty bound to provide their complete findings to the fiduciaries and the court.

To protect the public laws should permit us a reasonable period of time to take proper steps to account for all the heirs, including authorizing an heirship research firm to assist in fulfilling our obligation to exercise due diligence.

PUBLIC POLICY IMPLICATION of proposed legislative changes: Protective statute(s) designed to assist consumers.  See Resolution.