STEP Endorses heir hunters fees
Finders, the international probate genealogy firm, have today welcomed the guidance produced by STEP for Personal Representatives and Trustees on (Probate) Genealogists (sometimes known as Heir Hunters) fees, which endorses the beneficiary contingency fee.
Finders, the international probate genealogy firm, have today welcomed the guidance produced by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) for Personal Representatives and Trustees on (Probate) Genealogists (sometimes known as Heir Hunters) fees, which endorses the beneficiary contingency fee. The STEP guidance, issued to 6,000 of its UK members, sets out issues for a personal representative to consider, when hiring professional probate genealogists to find heirs entitled to inherit under an estate. It highlights the importance of taking ‘reasonable steps to find all those who are entitled’ by employing a ‘genealogical research firm to achieve this’.
STEP’s guidance acknowledges the advantage of several fee models, but crucially, endorses the beneficiary contingency fee; Finders’ most popular fee option. The STEP guidance states that the advantage of the contingency fee model is that ‘known relatives of the deceased do not directly suffer the expense of tracing relatives that have lost touch with the family.’
Commenting on the STEP guidance, Daniel Curran, Director of Finders said:
“We’re incredibly pleased that STEP has chosen to endorse the heir hunter contingency fee model. The STEP guidance acknowledges the importance of commission based contingency fees, which ensure that all cases can be resolved, including those where the search for a missing heir is simply not undertaken or, where the estate of known heirs is used up in fees paid for searching for missing heirs.
“We have seen many instances of heir hunter firms charging only by the hourly rate racking up bills running into the tens of thousands of pounds. With unscrupulous heir hunters offering only an hourly rate paid by the general estate there is clearly no incentive to finish the job. In fact you could argue that these heir hunters want the job to last as long as possible! This is where the heir hunter’s contingency fee option is of most reassurance as the heir hunter can only be paid if they successfully locate living heirs who retain their services on a commission basis. This commission is expressed as a percentage of the final net sum due to the heir, thus if the estate becomes insolvent the heir hunter receives nothing. On an hourly rate the fees themselves that an heir hunter may charge could be the very cause of the estate becoming insolvent
“Tracing heirs and locating unknown beneficiaries is complex, specialist work, requiring expertise and experience. In our experience a choice of fee option is vital to a healthy and competitive market and a good firm of probate genealogists (or heir hunters as they are sometimes known) will be keen to find the best fit for the consumer and discuss a variety of fee options and costing methods. This should always include the option for beneficiary contingency fees, which are currently Finders’ most popular fee option.”
Under an heir hunter’s contingency fee agreement, customers may agree in advance a limit to the percentage commission that will be payable out of the inheritance of the successfully located beneficiary once the estate has been distributed. If the search by the probate genealogist is unsuccessful, whether because the missing heir is dead, cannot be found, or does not exist (e.g. a will leaves everything to the children of the testator’s son, but there are no children), then no fee is payable to the heir hunter by the estate and the inheritance of a previously known heir, or heirs, will remain unaffected.