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Heirs: Beware of Heir-Hunter Tactics

Posted by Mary R. LaSota, Esquire in Estate Plan, Intestate | 0 comments

Every day unwary individuals receive FedEx or priority/next day envelopes from heir search companies that comb the probate records searching for their next big fish to land.  The heir search companies are driven to be the first to find one or more missing heirs, and then convince those same individuals to sign a finder’s fee contract. The company’s fees can range from 20 to 50 percent of the missing heir’s inheritance.  So for example, if the heir is to receive $100,000 from the estate, the heir search company can end up with $20,000 to $50,000 of the inheritance for little or no work done.

You read that correctly, $20,000 to $50,000 of $100,000 inheritance for little or no work done. The extent of the work includes identifying missing heirs, notifying those missing heirs of their potential interest, and then hiring a local attorney that will notify the estate attorney of the existence of those additional potential heirs.  That’s it!  That is the extent of the work done.  Perhaps it may have taken an hour, perhaps 2 hours, but I am being really, really generous.  So if billed at an hourly rate of $300 per hour for 2 hours, that results in a bill of $600, which is significantly a lot less than a 20-50% of the inheritance.

If those additional potential heirs are legitimate heirs, they are entitled to the inheritance without the involvement of the heir search company.  Why?  Under state law, if a person dies without a Last Will, the estate attorney must distribute the assets of an estate pursuant to the intestate laws of that state.

Pennsylvania’s intestate laws can be found here.

So if you are contacted by an heir search company do not sign any contract with them!!  Instead, contact your estate planning attorney.   I suggest an estate planning attorney because he or she knows the process of finding missing heirs or knows of a reputable heir search company that bills by the hour rather than takes a percentage of your inheritance.  If you do not have an estate planning attorney, contact your local bar association, and request a referral, and make sure you read my blog on Top Things to Consider when Hiring an Attorney.  Yes. The attorney will bill you for his or her time, but it should be based on an hourly rate ranging in price from $50-$400 per hour rather than 20 to 50 percent of your inheritance.



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