The winding path to winding up estates: dovetailing in support services

Written by Louise Levene, International Asset Services Manager at Finders International

With a rise in multi-family households, more complex family structures and an increase in assets held overseas as people increasingly live, work and invest outside of our borders, new complexities for private client practitioners have developed.

However, we haven’t got much better at making Wills. Statistics* indicate that two thirds of British people still don’t have a valid Will, and that nearly 60% of parents don’t have a valid, up-to-date Will in place. This can have a profound effect on estates and the heirs. Private client practitioners are required to have a very broad skill set, so it can be comforting to know that, where needed, professional probate genealogists can step in.

No instructions

On learning of the death, practitioners may have a problem right at the start: you have no instructions to act, no access to funds, and little or no information about possible next of kin entitled to take the estate on intestacy. Probate genealogists can step in here, to help get the administration process moving, with a variety of flexible options for payment of fees.

Due diligence

The subject of Wills – or their lack – can be thorny. The family is convinced that a Will was written naming them; or that a more recent Will exists than the one in the probate practitioner’s possession. A thorough Will search, backed up by missing Will indemnity insurance, can help put the uncertainty to rest and allow the estate representatives to move on with the process.

Bundles of paperwork

The NHS believes up to 2% of people in the UK may have a serious hoarding problem**. It can be daunting for probate practitioners to work through disorderly boxes of papers left by a hoarder, and Finders International can help with the task, checking for important papers and indications of value for the estate and working in partnership with specialist firms.

The beneficiaries

The work of tracing missing beneficiaries utilises many research tools via publicly accessible online records of births, marriages and deaths, census records and social media, as well as electoral roll and other commercial data. It’s the training, credentials, special records access and research methodology that set a professional probate genealogist apart from ‘bedroom’ sleuths: ensuring that all parts of the family tree have been carefully researched, before concluding that all beneficiaries have been found.

Estate practitioners can find themselves misinformed about the true extent of the family. The family members couldn’t always have known about the additional heirs that emerge through research, but genealogists find some beneficiaries are economical with the truth. Taking the word of the ‘sole heir’ at face value is a potentially costly risk for the estate administrators to take, that can be avoided by engaging a professional probate genealogist to independently verify the family tree.

Case study: “No, there’s no one else…”

Finders International was recently involved in the estate of a man with a £400,000 intestate estate. The man’s sister asserted she was the sole beneficiary. Finders verified the tree at the precautionary request of the legal practitioners administering the estate, and found that she had a nephew, entitled to half the estate. She had, it appeared, neglected to mention his existence because she didn’t approve of his behaviour. The nephew received his rightful share of the inheritance, and the practitioners saved a great deal of trouble and expense from a potential later claim.

Finding assets

It’s remarkably easy for a person to acquire assets overseas: the ease with which you can live or work overseas, perhaps being paid in company stock, combined with an increase in wealth managed overseas, help us feel that we live in a truly globalized world.

It’s often when the person who owns these assets dies, that we tend to find out the world is not so globalized after all. A virtual security gate crashes down, and the estate representatives and legal practitioners advising them must deal with a string of unfamiliar requirements from a foreign-based asset-holding institution, that may create legal, financial or administrative complications – or all three! Outsourcing this work to an experienced professional firm of probate genealogists can take the speculation out of these unfamiliar processes and help with what can be lengthy and time-consuming work.

Case study: made in the USA

A lady died leaving what was once a straightforward, London-listed UK share portfolio. In recent years and with failing health, she stopped actively managing her portfolio. After her death, her Executors found she had ‘accidentally’ acquired several high value shareholdings listed in the USA, through corporate acquisition and stock spin-offs. The legal practitioners advising the estate had little experience with this kind of work and brought Finders International in to complete the necessary steps. US estate tax clearance was procured due to the high value of the assets, and the shares transferred out of the Deceased lady’s name, using Medallion Guarantee stamps to satisfy the requirements of the transfer agents, and subsequently sold.

Outsourcing options

Practitioners holding the many reins of an estate administration process have a lot to think about and estates vary widely in their levels of complexity. While not every estate requires help, when there is step in the process that proves time-consuming or troublesome, it’s useful to know you can call on the wide-ranging resources of probate genealogists.

For further advice, contact Finders International on +44 (0)20 7490 4935, email, or visit our website to view our services.

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