- I’ve never even heard of this person! How am I entitled?
- How did you find me?
- Why does it take so much work? Couldn’t you just find me on a computer?
- Why are you asking for a commission?
- Why can’t you tell me exactly how much money I am entitled to?
- What are the advantages for me in signing your fee agreement?
- Do I pay you any fee ‘up front’ in advance of me receiving my share?
- Is there any risk of loss by signing your agreement?
- Should I take legal advice before signing your agreement?
- How long will it be before I receive my share?
- Will my personal details and whereabouts be kept confidential?
- I would really like to get back in touch with my relatives – can you put me in contact with them?
- Can I have a copy of the family tree?
- Your fee is 20% plus VAT. VAT is 20% now, so is your fee 40%?
- Why am I entitled to less than some cousins, but more than others?
- Why am I entitled, but not my mum?
- Who regulates probate genealogists?
Often, the person concerned has died intestate, that is, they did not leave a valid will. In such cases, the law states that the deceased’s estate must be shared between their legally entitled next of kin. If we have contacted you it is because we believe that you are entitled to share in the estate under the laws of the jurisdiction concerned. Each country has different laws in this regard, but in England and Wales it is very likely that you could benefit from the estate of a person extremely distantly related to you. We often contact beneficiaries who are cousins two or three times removed from the deceased – in other words, the person who has died could be the cousin of one of your grandparents. There are very few people in touch with such distant relatives and it is therefore not surprising that the person who has died is unknown to you.
We make use of publicly available records and databases to construct a family tree of the person who has died and trace the nearest living relatives on each line by using electoral roll and similar data. This can often take us a considerable amount of time and expense.
Many genealogical records are now available to view online and although some search engines do assist us in our research, we cannot rely on their complete accuracy. Although they certainly save time occasionally, much of our research still involves a thorough search of the original indexes of birth, marriage and death, as well as probate records, old electoral registers and other documents at local record offices and libraries.
In some cases, we may have been instructed to work on a contingency basis which means that there is no risk to the estate of the person who has died – if we do not find any beneficiaries, we will not be paid! Our commission therefore reflects the risk we take and the amount of work involved in undertaking all of the necessary research to trace you and to prove your claim, including the provision of a full family tree and report to the administrator, so that the estate can be distributed correctly. Our costs are also significant: in order to confirm our research and prove your claim, it is necessary for us to purchase many birth, marriage and death certificates in each case, at a cost of £9.25 each. Add to this the cost of probate documents (£6.00) and other disbursements, together with the time we invest in tracing you, and we believe that our fully inclusive no-risk commission is a fair reflection of our costs and efforts in finding you and presenting your claim.
During the early stages of our research, it is often impossible for us to be precise about how much your potential share is worth. Administrators will normally be able to provide an estimation of the value of an estate but sometimes, when the administration is complete, the amount of money distributed may be lower than was originally anticipated – if, for example, there are unforeseen liabilities (debts) involved. This can also work the other way of course, should the administrator discover hitherto unknown assets which may increase the value of the estate. Genealogical research can be a lengthy process and until our work is at an advanced stage we cannot know how many lines of the family are entitled and therefore what proportion of the estate you may be entitled to. We will always try and give you as much information as we can at any given time regarding your entitlement and the extent of the family tree.
If we have offered to prove your claim to share in an estate, it means that the administrator (the solicitor or the person dealing with the estate) was either unable to find you, or was unaware of your existence at all. By signing our agreement, we undertake all of the work required to prove your claim, including obtaining all relevant documentation such as birth, marriage and death certificates (currently £9.25 each; if you are distantly related, the cost of buying certificates alone could easily exceed £100). We also remove the risk of proving your claim, in terms of your time and costs. For example, if a valid will was unexpectedly discovered during the administration of the estate, or if the estate was consumed by unforeseen debts, it is unlikely that you would be able to recover your costs in presenting your claim.
Absolutely not. At no point will you be asked to send us any money. The only fee we receive will be the percentage of your entitlement agreed by you and deducted by the estate administrator when the estate is distributed. We receive our fee only when you receive your share. Our fee is also inclusive of all of our costs in obtaining the certificates and other documents required to prove your claim.
None whatsoever. Our fee is deducted from your share by the estate administrator and that is the only fee we receive from you. Money does not leave your pocket at any stage!
We advise all potential beneficiaries we contact that they are at liberty to take legal advice before signing our agreement. We regret that we cannot be responsible for any fees that may be incurred.
It is impossible to generalise since every case is different. The statutory time advised to complete the administration of an estate is usually one year (although this can vary). However, with the additional amount of time required to find all extant kin, it can typically be between 9 and 18 months before an estate is distributed.
Yes. Having traced you, the only other party to whom your details will be presented will be the estate administrator or solicitor. We are registered with the offices of the Information Commissioner and are legally obliged to observe proper procedures to safeguard all information. We will not disclose your information to any other third parties including any other family members (unless you specifically authorise us to do so – see below).
For some beneficiaries, finding out about their extended family can be as rewarding as any financial gain and may also be an opportunity to get back in touch with long lost relatives. We are mindful that this is not always the case and therefore we never divulge information about other family members unless authorised by them to do so; indeed, this would be a fundamental breach of our legal and ethical obligations regarding the safeguarding of information and confidentiality. If you wish to contact a relative, we would be happy to forward a brief note or an unsealed letter with your contact details, in order that the recipient may elect to make contact with you should they so wish. We regret that we are unable to forward any sealed letters on your behalf.
The completed family tree compiled by us is sent to the estate administrator or solicitor. This contains confidential information (such as dates of birth, marital names and addresses) which is for estate purposes only. However, we are always happy to assist you with your family history where we can and to this end we are pleased to answer any enquiries by phone or email. Once an estate is distributed, we may also be able to provide abridged family trees to those beneficiaries who have engaged us to prove their claim.
No. If you are a resident of the European Union, we are obliged to charge VAT for our services, the current rate of which is 20%. Please note that this applies to our fee only and not to your overall entitlement, so the VAT is charged as a percentage of our fee. In the case of a 20% fee, this means a gross fee of 24%, 4% of which we pass on to HM Revenue and Customs.
Intestate estates in England and Wales are distributed per stirpes (latin for ‘by branch’), meaning that in a case where there are a number of beneficiaries there will often be different degrees of entitlement, resulting in unequal shares. For example, an only child will receive the entire share due to their late father or mother but where there is more than one child, their shares will be equally split. So, five children for example will each receive one fifth of the amount concerned. This inevitably becomes more complicated in cases where cousins are entitled and the family tree contains dozens of different branches of various sizes.
Intestate succession follows the blood line, so if you are entitled to an estate through your late father’s family, you would be entitled rather than your widowed mother. This would also be the case if the entitlement comes through your mother’s line and she has passed away, that is, you would be entitled but your widowed father would not.
Unfortunately, there is no regulatory body for probate genealogy firms such as ours. Some genealogists are members of associations, but these are generally aimed at individual genealogists rather than for companies specialising in probate genealogy. Martlets along with other firms would welcome a regulatory body or specialist association for probate genealogy in order to maintain professional standards and in 2007, we contacted the Office of Fair Trading for their advice. Although our industry is too small to merit professional oversight, our best hope of regulation would be to form our own association and to establish a professional code of conduct. We hope that such a charter may be established in the future and in the meantime, we believe that our record of providing a quality service to our clients and beneficiaries speaks for itself.