An heir search service tries to find people who are an heir to an estate. Often these services are required when someone dies without making a valid last will and testament. A probate research firm, private investigator or a forensic genealogist may be retained to do a search for the heirs. Probate and estate law is complicated. The laws are different in each country. In the United States of America, the laws vary from state to state. Because of the complexity of this legal area it is often recommended to retain the services of a licensed, experienced professional.
Most of the time, a search for a person takes place because of a settlement of an estate. There are other situations in which a person needs to be found. Money in inactive checking and savings accounts is turned over to the state. The contents of inactive safe deposit boxes are turned over as well.
Search firms will obtain the list of those who have unclaimed assets to try to find them. Sometimes there are disputes over real estate ownership or gas, oil, and mineral ownership rights. People involved in resolution of these claims and disputes must be found to settle the issue.
Professionals known as probate researchers trace next-of-kin of the deceased. There are two basic situations. First, the estate may not have any heirs that the probate court is aware of. The search is required to establish the location of any heirs. Second, the probate court may know the name of an heir but does not know how to locate them.
Probate researchers operate under several different names. They can be called heir searchers, forensic genealogists, or heir hunters but they all provide the same service. It is not uncommon for probate researchers to be attorneys or licensed private investigators. Their work is not that much different than a police detective or even a bill collector.
The field of probate research is filled with many legal terms. An important legal term is the word intestate. Intestate is the condition of a person dying without having filed a valid last will and testament. In this situation any net assets belonging to the deceased are distributed by the probate court. It is the probate court’s responsibility to establish the legal heirs of the deceased’s estate.
Every country has its own intestacy laws. Estate and inheritance laws vary from state to state in the United States. A competent probate researcher will need to have knowledge of the laws in all the states. They will need to possess a specific skill set similar to a police investigator, bill collector and lawyer. Often they have very little information to go on. Perhaps only a name and a birth date is the only information available. It is not that uncommon for an heir to have no idea that they are entitled to an inheritance.