Heir Hunters

I receive a lot of email from people I've never heard of telling me that I've won a lottery, have inherited a small fortune, or have otherwise been selected to receive a large amount of cash. Just this morning, for instance, I found out that I had won the "Irish National Lottery" and that the "Ecobank/United Nations Scam Victims Compensation Fund" had decided to pay me $100,000. The money just keeps pouring in.

Typically I delete these emails without a second thought, recognizing them to be the scams that they are. But it's exactly this kind of skepticism that makes life hard for those who have the job of informing people that they've inherited money from a long-lost relative.

Justin Harper, of the Daily Mail, has written an article about firms in this line of business. Apparently every year the British Treasury receives £10 billion from unclaimed estates. They try to locate relatives of the deceased who might be entitled to the money. This has created a lucrative business for so-called "heir hunters" who, for a commission, try to locate the heirs and give them their money. But, of course, nowadays everyone is so skeptical about scams, that the heir hunters have a hard time convincing people that they really have inherited money. The Daily Mail writes:
THE Treasury Solicitor advertises in national and local newspapers when someone dies intestate and without known beneficiaries. It will give details of the person's name, where and when they died and the value of their estate.
About 20 are advertised each week and they cover estates valued at £5,000 or more. Adverts are issued on a Thursday which is a very busy time for the genealogists who operate in this field. These socalled heir hunters are in a race against time to piece together a family tree, find the relatives who are line for the inheritance and be the first to contact them.
There's money in it for both parties. The inheritor receives money they weren't expecting and the genealogist firm charges a fee of up to 25 pc of the money. A contract is signed before details of the deceased is given.
Fraser & Fraser is the biggest firm of genealogists in the UK and features in the BBC programme Heir Hunters showing how hard it can be to track down relatives who have inherited money from longlost family members. Researchers sift through millions of records of births, deaths and marriages along with censuses, electoral registers and other documents.
Fraser & Fraser also has staff throughout the UK on the road who speak to neighbours, social services and anyone who can shed some light on the deceased's family.
Ironically, one of the hardest jobs is convincing beneficiaries they are not part of an elaborate hoax when an agent from turns up on their doorstep with the good news.
I'm now wondering if any of those emails I've been deleting were for real.


Posted on Wed Jun 20, 2007


Hrm, the Daily Mail isn't quite known for truthful articles. Even if this is on another publication, I'd be wary of trusting many writers from the Daily Mail nonetheless...
Posted by Sam  on  Wed Jun 20, 2007  at  05:07 PM
Always beware the Daily Mail. However, the figures collected by the treasury are about accurate, and only in the cases of extremely large estates will anyone really bother to back-track the line to try and find a next-of-kin. Seems to make sense to me.

Although I'll still take it with a pinch of salt until I see confirmation from a source whose reliability is on par with the Beano.

I shouldn't say that. I'm being very unfair to the Beano.
Posted by Renquist  on  Wed Jun 20, 2007  at  05:25 PM
Agreed that the Daily Mail is as trustworthy as an Estate Agent. Here's a link to the story on the BBC website:


I've watched the show, it is quite interesting to see once, but every episode is pretty much the same.
Posted by Robert Newman  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  04:25 AM
I've seen the show too. Apparently they take quite a hefty percentage in return for tracking down these people. It's a case of 'Hi, you're in line to inherit some money, but I'm taking a chunk of it as my fee for finding you' - it does sound just like a scam. And anyway, isn't this the sort of thing the lawyers and executors of the will should be doing?
Posted by Nona  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  06:49 AM
I've been tracked down for a 'lost bank account' once. My grandmother had opened it for my brother and I, and then died without telling my parents about them.
Eventually, I got a letter from a tracker saying 'You have $xxx in lost money. Agree to our 20% finders fee and we'll tell you how to claim it'.
I didnt pay them, but I did use the figure they gave to track it down in other legit methods and voila, found a missing acount with the same value, so I knew that had to be it.
They werent asking for any money up front, just a percentage of the lost amount. But then, that's probably how all scams start isnt it - no money up front, but bit by bit, unknown fees creep in....
Posted by AussieBruce  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  07:41 AM
I work for the State government where I live and have actually had experience searching for unclaimed property (including unclaimed bank accounts) personally.

link to claiming Unclaimed property in Michigan (U.S.) - My home state:

Link to find Unclaimed property in other states:
http://www.unclaimed.org/ (select the "looking for property - Owners" option and then select the "state-by-state search" link to find the link to other states in the U.S.)

Just for you Alex:
California Unclaimed property link:

Happy hunting peeps 😊
Posted by oppiejoe  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  09:20 AM
Thanks, oppiejoe. Looks like there are 58 Boeses in California alone with unclaimed property, but none of them seem to be related to me. :down:

It's amazing how many other people have my last name, given that it's a rather unusual name. And yet I've never randomly met anyone else called Boese.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  01:45 PM
I used to know a Boese, now that I think about it. It's been a long time, but I think it was pronounced BAY-zee.
Posted by Kathleen  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  02:54 PM
I found over $800 belonging to a girlfriend and her ex. It was in his name but was from the house they owned together at one time. She was very happy to receive $400 out of the blue.
Posted by Charybdis  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  03:39 PM
Oh, and I also found $30 belonging to my uncle. I told my parents about it, but I have not idea if they ever passed it on. It might have ended up costing more to claim it than it was worth.
Posted by Charybdis  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  03:40 PM
And looking again there is $9.32 in my grandmother's name out there just waiting to be collected. Maybe I can buy a gumball with my share.
Posted by Charybdis  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  03:44 PM
No prob Alex 😊

I also noticed on the Unclaimed.org link that there was Canadian information!
Linky: http://www.unclaimed.org/mainframe.asp?VisitorType=owner
Posted by oppiejoe  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  04:45 PM
crud... chose "Other Resources To Search" from the above referenced link for the Canadian links.
Posted by oppiejoe  on  Thu Jun 21, 2007  at  04:47 PM
As one of the companies featured in the TV series (albeit No.2) I can assure you all that the business is legitimate and although we recover reasonable fees once the estate has distributed they are by no means exorbitant being of the order of 20 - 25%.
We do all of the research and pay the bills so if the case goes wrong which happens about 30% of the time, we don't receive any fee.
Posted by Peter Birchwood  on  Sat Jun 23, 2007  at  04:23 AM
I have been left some money and a watch by my grandparents but i have had no contact with my family for a while now and both my grand parents are dead! please help!
Posted by andy  on  Tue Jul 03, 2007  at  08:29 AM
Living in the states, I get a lot of those emails from the UK Lotto. In checking it out out of my own curiosity, the UK doesn't have email lottery. The only way to get a ticket number is to purchase one. I always give the originator enough info to turn the tables on him/her and request payment through cashier's check to a bogus PO Box.
Posted by Sounds Hokey To Me  on  Mon Sep 17, 2007  at  12:54 PM
I guess deleting emails will not be a problem as i would expect these people to track you down by post or by knocking on your door, or even a phone call.
Posted by investment property  on  Tue Feb 12, 2008  at  02:02 PM
I can't quite believe how cynical some of the people are who have posted on this website! The reason 'heir hunters' or Probate Researchers exist is because half the people in the UK (alone) die without writing a Will. Of those a great many appear to have no apparent beneficiaries (married partners or blood relations) to their estates. These 'heir hunters' NEVER ask for money up-front and are only paid their cut if you/the beneficiary gets something. They do a vast amount of (often fruitless) work to find the rightful heirs and then prove them to be legitimate in court. I'd happily pay someone a 25% fee if it meant that I was proved for 75% (and wouldn't otherwise have known about it).

As many people die without Wills or clear/ enactable ones, they don't always have executors or motivated solicitors to do 'the finding'. Either that of their solicitor gets expert genealogists/probate researchers to find the rightful beneficiaries who in the 'modern age' could quite easily have moved to Timbuktu via Reyjavik. The governments of both the UK, USA and elsewhere are the ultimate inheritor if no blood relative can be found and you can bet they'll spend the money wisely... Perhaps unsurprisingly our governments don't do anything to find the rightful heirs and that's why 'heir hunters' exist. I should add that 'heir-hunters' do not make contact via e-mail or the bank of South Uganda, and nor do they ever charge fees up front or where there's no money received by the beneficiary. Can I suggest that we all write and regularly update own Wills, and that if any of you are of a generous and humorous disposition, that you include my name on yours for pointing you in the informed direction! Otherwise God Bless and please spend and enjoy my inheritance. JM x
Posted by JJ  on  Thu Mar 05, 2009  at  08:04 AM
Heir Hunters are a new breed of probate detectives chasing beneficiaries to estates, sometimes where there is a will, but lawyers or executers cannot trace them, This a big source of business than the more speculative intestate estates done on a non win no fee basis.

In all cases the beneficiary does NOT need to part with any money but be patient and hope they will receive something - how long and how much is decided by size of estate and number of beneficiaries, so you could end up with nothing, or millions, and it might to take months or years to finally know.

You will get a great family tree in the end which shows how you got the loot too as an added bonus.
Posted by Maurice S Clarke  on  Tue Sep 22, 2009  at  12:09 AM
Heir hunters aren't new: people have been finding missing heirs on a business basis for well over a century. For the most part we work on contingency fees which means that the heirs we find do not have to pay anything up front but only if we succeed in proving their claim and they get their money. If anyone asks you to pay money to prove your entitlement, be very wary as it's probably a scam.
The business hasn't changed, only the terms used to describe us.
Posted by PRAB  on  Tue Sep 22, 2009  at  02:31 AM
I thought the term Heir Hunters was new as such although the job itself maybe well established. Any history on the task would interest me as I write articles on the subject for the newly formed Heir Hunters Association in the UK.

I know they are also known as probate researchers or probate detectives. HHA has a public forum too which you might want to contribute to outside this forum, I am loathe to post a URL in case I get banned...... search on Google will find...
Posted by Maurice S Clarke  on  Tue Sep 22, 2009  at  03:59 AM
As a person who runs an Probate Research company, I can assure you that legitamate companies will not run a scam, there are various ways of checking out if the company is legitmate. Check to see if they are on Companies house if they come from the UK. See if the person running the firm has any qualifications relating to Probate. What JJ posted is quite true, and the reason why executors and solicitors do not do the looking, is because they do not have the expertise. If a solicitor was to do it, they would be charging the estate the same rate that they charge for doing the rest of the administration of an estate, plus they have a duty to get an estate paid out as quickly as possible and remember that the money in that estate minus any fees belongs to the legatees. The solicitors, executors are only acting as agents for the legatees, and that the agents were appointed by will or settlement by testator.

All these things no one has thought about hence the reason why the profession of heir hunting gets a bad name, and those of us that are honest and not greedy all get tarred with the same brush
Posted by Dave  on  Tue Jan 26, 2010  at  03:44 AM
Well, I would say the emails you get saying you have won a lottery in Europe that you never even entered are fake. So are the emails from someone in Nigeria that wants to send you money because they cannot get it out themselves.

However, if you receive a letter in the mail or a phone call from someone saying there is money being held for you, chances are that this is true. Most unclaimed money finders would not have your email address, but they may have your last known address or phone number.

If you want to learn more about unclaimed money and unclaimed money finders, please go to http://unclaimed-money-finder.net

You will see that every state has an unclaimed property division and most states have laws regarding finders.
Posted by Mark Nourick  on  Tue Jul 27, 2010  at  11:49 AM
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