Things to Do if You Are Contacted by an Heir Hunter
When a person passes away, the administrator of the estate will attempt to track down heirs and named beneficiaries in the will to notify them of their rights. Sometimes, they have difficulty locating putative heirs and will hire professional forensic genealogists to search for missing heirs. Forensic genealogists differ from heir hunters who are typically not hired by the estate. Unlike proper forensic genealogists, heir hunters watch the obituaries and other sources of information to find unclaimed estates in an attempt to extort money from putative heirs in exchange for telling them about their legal rights. If you are contacted by an heir hunter, there are a few important steps to take in order to protect your rights and your assets.
Do Your Homework: Is the Heir Hunter Genuine?
There are a lot of scam artists purporting to be heir hunters. They may try to get your personal information such as your bank account number, your social security number, or other sensitive identifiers. Check their website, check their business address, and run internet searches like “[heir hunter name] scam.” If it is a legitimate genealogical researcher, they should have plenty of identifying information. Especially if they work with estate administrators, their business information should be publicly available. If you can’t find anything about the party calling you, red flags should be raised.
Don’t Sign Anything Until You Know the Details
If the party calling you is legitimate, they should be willing to tell you if they are working with the authority of the trustee or estate administrator. Typically, heir hunters are not hired by the estate, so they are loathe to give out that information. Make sure you know all of the details before you even consider signing anything.
If they are working with the administrator or estate attorney and are not charging them a fee for their assistance, then it may be worth it to you to consider their offer. Many heir hunters charge exorbitant fees (some large percentage of the inheritance), which is generally not worth agreeing to.
Ask questions: How much do they estimate you may inherit, what sort of cut does the heir hunter want to take, how many heirs are there? It may be advisable to have a lawyer review any heir hunter contract before you sign.
Look up the Unclaimed Estates List and Other Information
You shouldn’t be paying someone 40% of your inheritance just for a look-up on an unclaimed estates list and their phone call to you. Assuming the heir hunter will not provide you with details for the estate, see if you can find the information yourself. If you can track down the estate yourself, you should be able to find out the estate administrator’s information. A simple call to the administrator will let you know if you do have an inheritance waiting. You may need to check the internet for deceased relatives’ obituaries or notices of death.
Talk to Your Family Members
If you have been contacted by an heir hunter, chances are your family members have, too. Work together to try to identify the deceased relative and track down the estate. You should also discuss the heir hunter’s proposed contract and whether it is advisable to agree to their terms (typically, if they are working independently rather than for the estate, the answer will be “no”).
Take Your Time
Many heir hunters try to put pressure on people to make a decision quickly before people are located by the forensic genealogist assigned to the case. The faster you make your decision, the less likely you are to understand you may be found by an estate investigator. If you are contacted by an heir hunter, take your time. Do not make any rash judgments. If you are entitled to a share of an estate, you likely will be found by a forensic genealogist or investigator acting on behalf of the administrator for the estate who will be working to track you down, and they will not charge you a fee for giving you the money to which you are legally entitled. Give them some time to find you while you do your own research rather than giving up a huge portion of your inheritance to a shady heir hunter.
If you’re a putative heir responding to an heir hunter inquiry, or an estate administrator in need of seasoned help identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate, contact the dedicated and experienced forensic genealogists genealogist at Von Langen, LLC, at 800-525-7722.