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Forensic Genealogists &
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When Should Your Client Get Out of a Contingency Fee Heir Finder Contract

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Heir hunters are unscrupulous heir finders that take advantage of vulnerable or unwary heirs who are oblivious to their legal rights. If a person agrees to a contingency fee contract with an heir finder and then realizes that they are heir hunters whose fee is simply unreasonable, what are their options? Are they bound by such an onerous fee? Continue reading for a discussion of contingent fee heir finder contracts. Contact a professional and experienced forensic genealogist for qualified, legitimate, and thorough help identifying the proper heirs to an estate.

Heir Finder Contracts May Be Invalidated

If a party willingly enters into a contract and is of sound mind, and the agreement does not call for illegal activity, then the deal is typically enforceable. Unfortunately, it is not enough to call a contract ridiculous or excessive even when the fee is absurdly high (some heir finders charge upwards of 40 percent).

There may be grounds to claim that the contract is voidable, however. Contract law varies by state, and there are contracts and contract provisions that are void based on law or public policy. Some issues to consider in evaluating the legality of a contract include:

● Was the contract entered into as a result of the heir hunter “beating” the administrator or authorized forensic genealogist to the heir? Many cases are a situation where the administrator hired the forensic genealogist who then finds the heirs who had assigned a percentage to an heir hunter before the forensic genealogist was engaged. The heir hunter “raced” the administrator and his genealogist. Particularly if the payout ends up very high, the heir hunter’s contract might not be enforceable.
● Did the contract include services the heir hunter cannot legally provide? A California court ruled an heir hunter contract void as against public policy when the contract called for the heir hunter to obtain legal counsel and prosecute the heirs’ claims. The court determined that provision constituted the illegal practice of law and threw out the contract.
● Review the state’s consumer protection laws. Some states will allow consumers to get out of certain contracts if the terms are so unconscionable as to violate public policy, while others allow consumers to cancel certain contracts within a period of time after signing if the contract was signed at home.
● How much effort did the heir finder have to put in to track down the heir or estate? If all the heir finder did was find your client’s name on a website listing known survivors of a decedent, then a large fee may be so massive as to be unconscionable. On the other hand, if it required a significant amount of work to wade through notices across various states and connected estates, then the fee might be appropriate.

If you’re an estate administrator in need of skilled help in evaluating the legitimacy of heir hunters or with identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate, please do not delay in contacting an efficient and effective forensic genealogist at Von Langen, LLC at 561-748-2936.