14 Jul 2013

The lowdown on: missing beneficiary indemnity insurance

In this article I’m going to talk about missing beneficiary indemnity insurance (mbii); what it’s for, and when it is and isn’t an option.

The first thing to say is that while mbii was once seen as an alternative to research, this is no longer the case. When I started out as a professional genealogist, in the mid-1990s, it was easy to get insurance on the basis of minimal research efforts. Now, thanks to the rise in online archives and records, the amount of resources available to the genealogist (and the public) have increased hugely. Add to this the fact that the insurers have taken so many hits, and it’s not surprising that the days of easily obtainable insurance are long gone.

The second thing to note is that insurers are, by their nature, a cautious lot. When assessing an insurance application, they want to see evidence of research that has been undertaken by a professional probate genealogist, one whose work they know and trust, rather than by a keen amateur or family member without a track record.

Essentially, there are two types of missing beneficiary indemnity insurance:

Specific risk

As an example, let’s take the Deceased’s maternal aunt Ada Rutherford Noble, born in Nottingham in 1888. It’s inevitable that she will have predeceased but she may have surviving issue who would share in the estate. Before approaching an insurer, a full investigation must be undertaken: searching exhaustively for her marriage and death; consulting outgoing passenger lists; checking whether she appears on any other documents, such as a witness on a sibling’s marriage; probing the family for their recollections etc. Should nothing come of any this, a quote for mbii should be easily obtainable.

However, there are some specific risks that unfortunately remain uninsurable, despite exhaustive research. It’s often assumed that insurance will be obtainable against a missing legatee named in a Will. However, if that person is likely to be alive, they could potentially present themselves at any time, and insurance will probably never be an option. The good news is that if you instruct a reputable professional genealogist, they should be able to find the legatee and negate the need for insurance.

General risk

This is insurance, often referred to as “comfort cover”, intended to protect against the slim chance that rightful heirs have been overlooked. I hasten to add that I’m not necessarily talking about genealogical mistakes here. The birth of a relevant person could be missed because of mis-registration, illegitimacy, or a birth occurring in an unexpected overseas jurisdiction.

I recently worked on a case in which an aunt of the Deceased was born, married and died in Banbury, Oxfordshire. A search for issue of her marriage throughout the whole of England & Wales proved to be negative. The informant on her death certificate (and on that of her spouse) was a now deceased spinster niece. The couples’ Wills named only friends and the aforementioned niece. To all intents and purposes, this couple had no children. However, through interviews with distant family members, it emerged that there had been a son, born in Argentina. The son had died as a relatively young man, a bachelor without issue, and the line died out, but this is a good example of how people can sometimes be overlooked.

We have to accept that these risks exist and it makes sense to think about insuring against them, particularly if the estate is large.


In summary, missing beneficiary indemnity insurance is a great tool to protect the Personal Representatives against an incomplete distribution but it’s not always an option and, even in cases where it may be, you’ll need to instruct a reputable professional probate genealogist to help you get it.

Matthew Moore is the director of Moore Probate Research www.mprmissingheirs.co.uk
Email: matthew@mooreprobateresearch.co.uk
Tel: 01225 690 021