Another Good Reason to Write a Will – Avoiding Excessive ‘Heir Hunter’ fees

Posted Oct 14, 2019.

Recent research has revealed the high level of fees that ‘heir hunter’ firms can charge against a deceased persons estate in should an appropriate will not have been written. Heir hunters, so named after the popular BBC TV programme, are legitimate businesses that use a variety of methods to trace missing or unknown heirs who are entitled to a deceased person’s estate. Such heirs may often be unaware of their entitlement and should they not be traced, the case will be referred to the Treasury Solicitor where the details are made publicly available on a website. Eventually, if no heirs come forward, the Treasury will benefit from the value of the deceased estate.

High fees mean less money for heirs

The new data on heir hunter fees, discovered by genealogy firm Anglia Research under a FOI request indicates that over half of local councils in the UK have an exclusive arrangement with individual firms. Such exclusivity can easily lead to charges being significantly increased and quality standards potentially being lowered as there is no longer any competition in securing the work. The data shows that in a competitive situation, heir hunter fees range from 2% to 10% of the state value, with the actual fee level being determined by the case’s complexity. However, firms that have exclusive deals with councils are often charging significantly higher fees, with one case seeing a huge 40% being taken in fees from a £285,000 estate.

In commenting on the findings, Anglia Research said:

“This is fast becoming a major consumer protection issue… over two thirds of councils who responded, 141 authorities, admit that they would welcome clearer guidance or regulation around this issue. The needs to respond to this urgently before other families are ripped-off. Competition is the only way to prevent overcharging.”

In response to the criticism, a Local Government Association spokesperson said:

“Government guidance requires councils to check whether someone, who has left no will, has any relatives before the case can be referred to the Treasury Solicitor. This happens even if the relatives are difficult to trace or do not wish to deal with the estate…Councils do not have the expertise to carry out this work themselves, so often hire specialist heir hunter firms to do so on their behalf as it is the most cost effective way of meeting the requirements…However there needs to be a review of the guidance so councils can all follow the same level of investigation before the case is referred to the Treasury Secretary. As would making sure the genealogy firms are quality assured, as they are currently are not formally regulated.”

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