Would You Immediately Accept that You are a Lost HeirHave you ever head of a “successional” or “probate” genealogist? Apparently, they do exist, at least in Europe, but the opposite side of the coin is that some who claim the title are con artists. Yes, that means there is yet one more trick coming to light.

While investigators like International Investigators are pros who know how to find a missing person or find missing heirs, the process undertaken by a successional genealogist is a little different.

What is usually involved is a contract stating that they get 30 -35% of the inheritance if they can trace you back to an estate that is pending. Now, one story I read talked about a man whose grandfather had a great-nephew who died, unmarried and leaving no will. The subject had no idea of any of his grandfather’s family; because the man had died when the subject was very, very young and he had no contact with anyone from that side growing up.

He did research to determine if the company that contacted him was legitimate and was assured they were and this sort of arrangement was not uncommon. In the end, the company was successful in tracking down several distant unknown heirs. He said each descendent got about £700, while the company garnered about £10,000.

On the other hand, there is the story in which a woman was contacted by someone saying he was a private investigator representing a successional genealogist. His job was to find missing people who might be a missing heir.

The Investigator would not divulge any information about the person who had died or where the estate was located. So the woman didn’t know if the estate was real or if the investigator was legit. In fact, the investigator would not reveal the name of his client, the supposed probate genealogist. While investigators have skills to find a person, without some details she questioned whether this “heir locator” was really looking for lost heirs. Maybe he was looking for a patsy.

He was asking her to sign a contract allowing a collection of 30% of the estate to the genealogist firm (not named in the document) and a payment of several hundred dollars as “good faith” money. He explained that many heirs, once they got money from the estate, decided not to pay the firm.

He said it was fair because, “after all, if they hadn’t identified her as a missing heir or previously unknown heir, she would be getting nothing. This way, he told her, everyone wins.

Her concerns prompted her to do some due diligence and find out what she could before she signed any contract or gave any information about herself to this man who just appeared out of the blue. She decided she needed to get some information:

  • She had never heard of a successional genealogist and thought calls to an attorney and the probate court in her local area would give her some insight into the legitimacy of such a profession in which people find lost heirs
  • She wanted to know if the private investigator was licensed (and where)
  • She wondered if any of her siblings or her father (who was still living) had been contacted

In this case, the woman’s suspicions proved that this was a scam. One of the most telling signs was when he asked her for money. Investigators don’t ask for money. They are hired to uncover facts and the truth, not collect money.

When an investigator is tasked to find a person, we usually begin with some information about the person being sought. We sometimes are able to identify family members who can provide some information to help us in the missing person investigation. We move back into the person’s past to get to his present.

A successional genealogist is beginning with the person who died and moves into the current day. In other words, looking for lost heirs from the past to today. Many of the processes in each type of people search are similar. And the outcome desired is the same – to find missing persons.

Be careful you aren’t being scammed. You might find hiring your own attorney or even a private investigator can protect you in the long run. You’re right to be cautious.

-T. Wilcox, CEO, International Investigators

-B. McGinley, Director of Operations, International Investigators