FINDING HEIRS AND PROVING THEIR RIGHT TO INHERITANCES
What happens to the assets of someone who has died depends on whether or not that person has left a Will
Probate research is identifying, locating and tracing missing or unknown beneficiaries to estates. When someone dies without making an adequate will, Probate Law determines who will benefit from their estate. As generations pass, families drift apart and lose contact, when extensive research may be necessary to identify and locate the next of kin of the deceased.
Dying with a Will
If a Will has been left stating how the late owner wished to have the assets divided up between friends and family (the heirs), and they are all known, then everything is relatively straightforward. The Will usually names an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the wishes stated in the aforementioned Will.
An application will have to be made to a probate court or registry. The court will then examine the Will and satisfy itself that the demands of the law have been met. It will normally then grant probate, which means it is satisfied with the executor's title and with the validity of the Will.
Dying intestate - without a Will
If no Will has been left, the person is said to have died "intestate". The deceased person's assets will then be divided among the next-of-kin in fixed proportions as laid down by the law which governs intestacy - subject to certain statutory provisions, after payment of all liabilities, taxes and duties.
Instead of a grant of probate, the English court will grant "Letters of Administration" which appoint the administrator as personal representative of the deceased.
Difficulties requiring probate researchers
In both the above possibilities, difficulties may arise when initial enquiries fail to discover heirs or claimants. There are many reasons why this can happen. People lose touch with their families because they have emigrated, moved to another part of the country, quarrelled, or for numerous other reasons. Over the generations this gap can widen further.
In cases of intestacy, it frequently happens that the deceased is the last surviving member of a particular branch of a family, and the only living relatives are very distant ones whose last traceable connection dates back many years, perhaps to another century.
This is where we come in: our job of probate research consists of tracing people who are entitled to a share in "an estate" (the assets of a deceased person). If they are named in a Will but have disappeared, then we work to discover their whereabouts. When there is no Will, we delve into family history with the object of finding out who is the next-of-kin, and where they are living. Then we provide evidence of their rightful inheritance which will prove their claim.
This means that at the same time we are able to assist all such interested parties from the executor of a Will, the solicitors involved, trustees, bank and insurance companies and the probate court itself - as well as the heirs - all of whom regularly instruct us.