These are just a few examples of our cases. We have successfully concluded files upon files of similar cases…
Counsel’s Letter to the Public Administrator
This letter provides important insights into a specific case which pitted the Administrator against an heir hunting firm.
Read Counsel’s Letter (Click Here)
When “Heirs” Are, In Fact, Not Heirs
The Matter of the Estate of John S. Demko is an example of how a thorough and scrupulous investigation is the only way to uncover the full and uncompromised truth in matters of rightful heirs.
When Mr. Demko’s sole heir-at-law was found to be uncooperative when pursued by an heir hunter, the heir hunter went “on the hunt” to find – and contract with – other relatives and then filed claims against the estate. Dubious of the hurriedly filed claims, the estate’s attorney thought it prudent to engage the services of reputable forensic genealogist to conduct an exacting and thorough search.
The documentation shown was used to invalidate the false claim made by the heir hunter’s attorney. In the end, the truth was learned and the rightful heir received her inheritance.
Not So Fast: A Case in Point
What happens when alleged heirs are lined up by an heir hunter’s attorney before the search for legitimate inheritors even begins? That’s what occurred upon the passing of John A. Sward. The attorney representing the personal representative of Mr. Sward’s estate, Gregory H. Zogran, had not yet had an opportunity to begin the process of searching for beneficiaries when he received claims filed on behalf of a list of alleged heirs. It turned out the attorney for the “heirs”, Edward B. Cohen, was working on behalf of an “heir hunter” company, Kemp & Associates.
Attorney Cohen and his “heir hunter” client had an incentive to produce purported heirs quickly, as their compensation depended on a percentage of any inheritance money collected. Neither the attorney nor the heir hunter company had incentive to question the information provided by alleged heirs, nor did they have a legal obligation to provide attorney Zogran or the court with the name or whereabouts of any potential heir. They were remaining tight lipped unless and until each purported heir agreed to pay a percentage of their inheritance to the heir hunters.
The heir hunter’s rush to settle claims raised a red flag with attorney Zogran. As the attorney representing the personal representative responsible for ensuring an accurate and complete distribution of Mr. Sward’s estate to all rightful heirs, he needed to be certain with regard to a determination of heirs.
Knowing that attorney Cohen represented the interests of his primary client, Kemp & Associates who may not have disclosed the legitimate heirs, attorney Zogran would not simply accept Mr. Cohen’s list of inheritors without his own expert investigator performing proper due diligence. Over the vigorous protests of attorney Cohen, Mr. Zogran called in Cliff von Langen of Von Langen, LLC, a very experienced forensic genealogist.
Von Langen carefully proceeded with the deliberate process of identifying and locating legitimate heirs to Mr. Sward’s estate. Although attorney Cohen continued to protest Von Langen’s efforts, neither he nor his client, Kemp & Associates, was willing to indemnify attorney Zogran against any claims arising from their representations.
At one point Von Langen’s research uncovered that attorney Cohen’s claim filed on behalf of one of the alleged heirs was suspect. Von Langen advised attorney Zogran that Cohen should be required to produce a birth certificate or adoption papers as proof of his alleged heir’s interest. Attorney Cohen eventually and grudgingly acknowledged that the heir hunters had erred, and the purported “heir” was not, in fact, an heir-at-law.
Von Langen also received an email from a representative of the heir hunters, Kemp & Associates, stating, “I’ve reviewed your report and compared it to the research that we have conducted. There are a number of potential maternal claimants that are either partially or not reflected on our chart. These are primarily claimants that Kemp and Associates does not represent…”
In other words, their list of heirs produced by the heir hunters was far from accurate or complete. If attorney Zogran had simply accepted the false claims put forth by Mr. Cohen, he and his client might have faced a complicated suit against the estate should a legitimate heir come forward at a later date.
This is another illustration of the problems that could result from yielding to an heir hunter’s attorney’s pressure to “rush to judgment”. The heir hunters’ eagerness to cash in at the expense of their claimants may cause legitimate heirs to be overlooked and as a consequence financially harmed.
More Than Meets the Eye
As the estate administrator for the Estate of Joan M. Neshyba, attorney Catherine N. Wylie was presented with a long list of alleged heirs. The claims on behalf of the purported heirs were filed by attorney David Dexel who had been hired by “heir hunter” company Kemp & Associates, Inc. Kemp & Associates had located and presented to Mr. Dexel those heirs who they represented as having “confirmed”.
However, Ms. Wylie was very experienced with regard to work done by the heir hunters, which has made her skeptical. The heir hunters through attorney Dexel had peppered her with 108 documents and prepared complicated family trees on behalf of their clients. Ms. Wylie was well aware that the heir hunter’s rush to file claims was due, in large part, to the fact that their compensation was tied to contracts with the potential inheritors securing a percentage of any inheritance money collected. The quicker they could effect a distribution, the faster they would be paid.
Ms. Wylie obtained a court order for an independent review of the research performed by Kemp & Associates. She hired Von Langen, LLC, a nationally respected probate research firm specializing in forensic genealogy, to conduct the review. Attorney Dexel had no objection – he had worked with Cliff Von Langen successfully in past estates.
Both Ms. Wylie and Mr. Dexel were not surprised when Von Langen found the information produced by the heir hunters was riddled with errors and omissions. In order to address those many deficiencies and discrepancies so as to properly account for all the rightful heirs, further research was necessary and additional documents were compiled for both the maternal and paternal moieties.
Von Langen discovered many heirs who were not disclosed on the heir hunter’s family trees, while other heirs listed as deceased were found to be very much alive. The heir hunter’s family trees misidentified certain persons who had predeceased with issue who needed to be accounted for, while other deceased persons were shown to have been survived by issue. Further research was necessary with respect to predeceased issue.
As a result of Von Langen’s research it was learned that the heir hunters had contacted certain heirs who had not agreed to the heir hunter’s terms; consequently, those heirs were not disclosed on the heir hunter’s family trees. Von Langen continued to find more heirs who were never contacted by the heir hunters, time-consuming research that was further complicated by the unreliable information that was previously provided.
At the conclusion of this assignment, Von Langen had identified in excess of two dozen additional heirs who were previously undisclosed on the genealogical charts submitted by the heir hunters. The Von Langen firm provided accurate and complete maternal and paternal genealogical charts, listed all of Ms. Neshyba’s surviving and post-deceased heirs (including their contact information), and an inventory of Proof of Heirship documents as evidence to support their findings.
It became clear that the heir hunters had financial motive for attempting to effect a hastened distribution through misleading information. Ms. Wylie was grateful for Von Langen’s expertise as this case could have easily led to complicated and expensive litigation should an undisclosed heir come forward at a later date.
Who to Trust?
in the Estate of George Lacy the personal representative had distributed the estate assets to the only known heir, Mr. Lacy’s niece. But Terri Sherman, attorney for the personal representative, had worried that the distribution was made before all possible information concerning potential heirs had been compiled and verified.
Ms. Sherman’s concerns were not unfounded. Soon after most of the estate assets had been distributed, a claim was filed on behalf of another woman who also alleged to be a niece of the deceased. The attorney who filed the claim, Mark Evans was acting on behalf of International Missing Heir Finders, LLC, who had located the “missing niece”.
Concerned with this new claim, attorney Sherman engaged a forensic genealogist, Von Langen, LLC, to verify the relationships of both nieces, and in order to identify any other undiscovered heirs to Mr. Lacy’s estate; possibly, other family members who might be unaware of his death.
Although Von Langen received little cooperation from either of the nieces, his exhaustive research revealed that both were related to Mr. Lacy, and thus both were deserving heirs. But Von Langen’s research also discovered the “missing niece” had a deceased brother, whose surviving daughter was a grandniece of the decedent and as such should also be recognized as an heir to the estate.
It is interesting to note that the grandniece happened to mention that she had recently been in contact with her aunt, the late-arriving “missing niece.” In fact, during the course of Von Langen’s investigation it was learned that steps had been taken to discourage the grandniece from communicating with Von Langen or the estate’s attorney.
It was now suspected that a conspiracy to defraud the grandniece and the estate was being perpetrated by the “missing niece” and the attorney who was working with International Missing Heir Finders, LLC. Indeed, the owner of International Missing Heir Finders quickly appeared at the grandniece’s New York apartment in an attempt to induce her to sign an unnecessary contract giving his company a portion of any share of the estate she realized.
Attorney Sherman described the situation as, “the perfect set-up to file another claim against my client after I redistributed all of the estate’s assets.”
The attorney for the “missing niece” was not through. Since his other client, International Missing Heir Finders, was unable to convince the grandniece to sign a contract assigning a portion of her inheritance, they offered to withdraw their motion to set aside the findings of the Court, but only if Attorney Sherman agreed to stop Von Langen from digging further into the genealogy for the estate. International Missing Heir Finders (IMHF) would take over the research “at no cost”.
Attorney Sherman stated, “I would never consider relying on any research performed by IMHF. Mark Evans’ [IMHF’s attorney] dual representation raises issues in this case.” She explained the mysterious turn of events to the judge, and attorney Mark Evans on behalf of International Missing Heir Finders, LLC withdrew their objection.
Von Langen was able to continue the research into the possibility that even more heirs to Mr. Lacy’s estate existed. None were located. However, in an effort to help reduce research costs, he suggested that, in spite of the demonstrated unwillingness of IMHF and its attorney to be forthcoming with information, an interview with IMHF, its attorney and their client might “shake loose” additional information about other relatives.
At the time of this writing the case is still open, pending a ruling on the amount of money the “missing niece” would receive from Mr. Lacy’s estate.
Concluded attorney Sherman, “It is amazing how things change when the truth finally surfaces. Absolutely amazing… This case belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records!”
Conservator’s Foresight Prevents Deceit by Heir Hunters
Having an estate settled and distributed fairly is a duty of every estate administrator. So when attorney Paul Barnett was assigned as Conservator for Coletta L. Schulz, he immediately engaged the forensic genealogy firm of Von Langen, LLC to research and identify potential heirs in advance of the death of Ms. Schulz.
This was a particularly important step, as Ms. Schulz had no last will and testament and attorney Barnett preferred to avoid being assailed by heir hunters filing claims on behalf of who may or may not turn out to be legitimate heirs. Experience had taught him that research findings offered by heir hunters could not be relied upon.
Von Langen identified and provided current addresses for the statutory heirs, which included a sibling, half-blood siblings, and half-blood nieces and nephews. All heirs were confirmed and accounted for.
So it came as a surprise a year later when Attorney Barnett reopened the case with Von Langen. The new assignment was to review proofs of heirship submitted by attorney Thomas Callahan, who was working for an heir hunting company, Brandenburger & Davis. Following the death of Ms. Schulz and the filing of her estate, the heir hunters had swooped in and somehow managed to secure contracts with several of the heirs who had already been identified, even though they were already in line to receive their shares of the estate.
However, the plot thickens! It was discovered that, when compared with Von Langen’s prior findings, the proofs of heirship prepared by the heir hunters contained numerous omissions that were intentionally designed to mislead the administrator. Their deception was clearly perpetrated in an effort to effect a distribution of all the estate assets to only those heirs who were bound by contracts with the heir hunting company, thus unfairly increasing the amount of the fees taken by the heir hunters.
The alert work of attorney Barnett and the accurate research by Von Langen preempted the heir hunters efforts to deceive the court thereby preventing Ms. Schulz’s estate from being improperly distributed.