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Von Langen
Forensic Genealogists &
International Investigations
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Why You Should Conduct an Heir Search Early

heir search

When you’re administering an estate, you need to collect a wealth of information about various accounts, parties, properties, and other matters. One big challenge faced by many estate administrators is finalizing their tax forms while still awaiting vital information from putative heirs and other parties. If you wait to track down all of the heirs until later in the process, you may face even more headaches as you attempt to wrap up the estate.

Read on for a discussion of why it’s helpful to conduct an heir search early with the help of a professional, trusted forensic genealogist. You’ll track down the heirs in time to get vital identifying information and avoid the disappointment of seeing the heirs lose out on their own inheritance to heir-hunting sharks.

Get the Information You Need to Finalize Estate Tax Forms

If you are the appointed administrator and/or representative of an estate, you’ve got a lot on your plate, not the least of which is ensuring that you satisfy all creditors and estate tax obligations before distributing estate assets to the legal heirs. Part of your tax obligation is to identify the parties who are in receipt of disbursements from trusts or the estate.

If you are dealing with a clear will or trust that fully dictates which beneficiaries receive which assets, the process can be much simpler. If you’re dealing with a party who died intestate, however (meaning without a will), then you’ll need to identify all appropriate heirs entitled to inherit by the passage of law.

Tracking down putative heirs can take time and effort, especially if you try to go it alone. Ideally, you’ll retain a seasoned forensic genealogist or other missing heir expert to get a comprehensive report on outstanding heirs. From there, you’ll need to convince those parties–who may be estranged from the decedent and have little trust for you or your process–to give you identifying information such as their Social Security Numbers (SSNs) so that you can complete your tax forms. It’s a process, and the longer you wait to start that process, the bigger your headaches can become.

From our experience helping estate administrators cross all their T’s and dot all their I’s, we’ve seen putative heirs respond positively to being shown copies of estate pleadings and other information, including the inheritance they can expect to receive, along with a request for information or a confirmation of information about the heir. When the heir is presented with legal proof of their entitlement to inheritance, a dollar figure to latch on to, as well as a letter explaining that they need to fill out the forms in order to receive their distributions, they are more amenable to providing identifying information.

The earlier in the process you can identify all putative heirs, the better. You can send out the requests for information early on, giving the heirs time to review the requests and time to appreciate the inheritance they’ll receive if they comply. You will not be stuck waiting around for them to provide you with the vital information you need to file the estate’s final taxes and comply with other legal obligations.

Bonus: Preempt Unscrupulous Heir Hunters

One of the added benefits to locating heirs early in the process and submitting requests for information or “confirmation of information” is to notify putative heirs of their claims before those heirs can get taken in by heir hunters. Heir hunters track down putative heirs and get them to sign away upwards of 33% of their inheritance just for the privilege of showing up to probate court and collecting what they were already legally entitled to inherit.

The heir ends up paying estate taxes on top of sacrificing a third of the inheritance that they would have collected anyway, regardless of the heir hunter’s “help.” Tracking down the heirs early costs the estate a fraction of the price that heir hunters charge each putative heir, allowing you to ensure that the estate is actually distributed in accordance with the law and the wishes of the decedent.

If you’re an estate administrator or trustee in need of thorough, trusted forensic genealogy services, contact the offices of Von Langen, LLC for a consultation at 561-748-2936.