How To Avoid Dodgy Heir Hunting Firms

10 June 2022

How To Avoid Dodgy Heir Hunting Firms 

Being contacted with a letter to say that you are entitled to money always sets off alarm bells. When you have been found as a potential beneficiary by one or many heir hunting firms, you may receive a wealth of said letters – which, especially for those completely new to the world of genealogy and probate, can be an extremely intimidating situation. In this blog, we’ll go over how to avoid dodgy heir hunting firms and how to protect yourself from them! 

To make matters even more complex, when it is multiple heir hunting firms contacting you, it can take time to ensure that – should you want to go ahead with the procedure – you pick the right firm for you. Various firms use different pricing guides; some charge based on a percentage commission that is to be deducted from the inheritance (like us here at Family Wise!), some charge per hour spent on the case, and some firms charge both a commission and then pass your case to another company who will charge per hour spent as an ‘administration charge’ to the estate.

Of course, though, just like with any other industry, there are malicious individuals and businesses that are out to take advantage of innocent victims. Whether it be extortionate charges during the process, claiming more or all of the estate following the conclusion of the process, or even charging admin fees and never turning up with an inheritance – there are several different ways in which you can be caught out of pocket. 

So, what should you check for when approached by an heir hunting firm? 

Where do you begin in checking the authenticity of an heir hunting firm? 

First things first, if it’s a letter you received, check it for spelling mistakes and poor grammar; often these are tell-tale signs that the letter isn’t in fact from a professional company at all. 

Next, check the authenticity of the establishment on Companies House. Using Companies House, you can search the register by company name, company number, or office name – if they are a registered UK company, you will be certain to find them here. 

Along with checking Companies House, check the Information Commissioner’s Office, as any company that is registered with the ICO is GDPR compliant; providing you are potentially about to hand over valuable personal documentation, this is crucial. 

Another place to look is the company’s website and/or social media channels. Again, check these for grammatical errors, a “meet the team” section, or something similar, and any other information that may offer reassurance. Ensure this information is consistent across all the company’s platforms – once again, consistency represents professionalism, which is a trait any genuine heir hunting firm should have. 

Finally, check testimonials and reviews, be it on Google, Trustpilot, Bark, or even their own social media channels – if most people are writing negative reviews about them, it’s probably for a reason! 

So, all that checks out, what about the fees? 

Different heir hunters charge different rates, and in different ways. Some companies charge based on a percentage commission, which is to be taken out of the inheritance delivered at the end of the process; this percentage commission ranges from around 5 to 30% – anything higher should set off loud alarm bells! 

If you do sign with an heir hunter, and they request payments upfront, or throughout the process of making a claim, this should also be seen as a red flag. Fees should only be taken following the conclusion of the estate – if you are charged before or during the process, not only could you find yourself out of pocket if the estate doesn’t equate to much, but you could also be made vulnerable to being scammed altogether. 

For an estate to be on the Bona Vacantia list, it must be worth £500 or more. For example, an estate could be worth £501 and to be split between any number of beneficiaries – and not all beneficiaries are entitled to the same amount! This is why it’s so important to ensure that any fees are considered carefully before going ahead with the process if the firm does require fees as part of the contract. Here at Family Wise, we operate by taking the entirety of the risk and will never ask you for money – we only want to give it to you!

You should also never be expected to supply bank card details; the only documentation any heir hunter requires for the process is ID, in two forms – proof of identity and proof of address. If they are asking for your bank card details and PIN, steer well clear! The only reason they need your bank details (sort code and account number) would be to pay you and by this point, they should have told you what you will be receiving!

Generally, it’s safest to ensure that when signing a contract, the only charge the heir hunter expects is to be taken from the final pay-out of the estate, as this covers you on all bases, ensuring that you aren’t putting your own money on the line. Ensure you do your research on a company – and do it thoroughly!

For more advice and guidance around the field of genealogy, take a look at our other blogs!

© 2024 Family Wise | Privacy Policy | Website created by: stellasoft