24 Oct 2013

Instructing a genealogist – the scrimpers’ guide

More so than ever, lay clients are cost conscious but don’t want to compromise on service or quality. In this guide, I’ll look at ways you can get the most out of your money when employing a genealogist to locate a missing legatee or trace heirs entitled on intestacy.

Missing legatees

Firstly there are a few basic things you can try which won’t take much of your time, which may negate the need to employ a genealogist at all.

It’s always worth sending a second letter to the address in the Will, no matter how old, if the first fails to elicit a response. You would be surprised how often we are asked to find a person only to quickly discover that the “old” address is in fact still current.

If you suspect someone is at an address but they won’t respond to letters or phone calls, send them a letter by recorded delivery. It’s a little cloak and dagger but you will be able to check to see who signs for it.

Check with Directory Enquiries. A “not listed” result tells you nothing but “the number is ex-directory” tell you that someone of the given surname, if not your missing person, continues to reside at the address.

However, if all that fails and you do need to turn to a genealogist, the key to the outcome lies in the information you provide: the more you give us, the less we’ll have to find out for ourselves and the less we’ll charge. We want to know some or all of the following:

The legatee’s full name, their previous names, their last known address or addresses, their relationship to the Deceased, the name of their spouse or former spouse, the names of their children, whether they had children. So, while admittedly, we weren’t able to do much when told that one missing person had ginger hair or that another once owned a cat named Butterpaws, in the main, almost any information can be useful.

Missing heirs on intestacy

When it comes to finding the heirs entitled on intestacy, there really aren’t any shortcuts. However, you should start by employing a reputable, professional genealogist who is charging a reasonable hourly rate, or has set a reasonable fixed or capped fee if it’s appropriate to do so.

Once done, without wanting to repeat myself, it is all about information. It can be rather time consuming for you but it really is worth gathering up and sending us copies of all the paperwork, old certificates, old address books etc that you hold. This documentation can shave hours and money off a research project.

If you’re in contact with some of the heirs, the best thing to do is let us contact them directly. Firstly this will save you time. Secondly, the truth is, unless you’ve been doing this for years, you won’t necessarily know what information is useful. We are very used to interviewing beneficiaries and getting the most out of them and we find that they almost always, when pushed in the right way, know more that we can use than they think they do.

So when funds are tight – when aren’t they? – there are ways to save the estate money. In certain situations, you may be able to avoid using a genealogist at all. Where that’s not possible, if you make sure you choose the right genealogist and provide them with the right information, it shouldn’t cost a fortune for the peace of mind you and your client need before distributing an estate.