"HEIR hunters" have produced a list of the UK areas where the most people have died without a will – and where an unknowing relative may be able stake a claim.
A genealogy firm has looked at probate record across the country and calculated the number of people who died intestate in each area.
And the company, Anglia Research, has revealed that Birmingham residents are the most likely to receive an unexpected inherited fortune they didn’t know about.
Using the Government’s official Bona Vacantia List (Latin for vacant or unclaimed goods), the city had 187 unclaimed estates, over 50 more than Camden which was in second place.
With each estate being potentially worth thousands, some Birmingham residents could be set to inherit a substantial sum of money from a family member they didn’t know they were related to.
The top three locations – Birmingham, Camden and Leeds – remain unchanged from the last quarter.
But Lambeth in London, which has ranked fourth last quarter, has dropped to thirteenth after the number of unclaimed estates in the borough dropped to 54.
Nearly half of the top fifteen locations are in London, with Paddington and Southall making their first appearance in the index, with 51 and 54 unclaimed estates, respectively.
While Sheffield’s 54 unclaimed estates earned the city its first appearance on the index.
What happens when someone dies without a will?
IF someone in England or Wales dies without a will, their estate is given to their next kin in the following order:
- Husband, wife or civil partner
- Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on
- Mother or father
- Brothers or sisters who share both the same mother and father, or their children (nieces and nephews)
- Half brothers or sisters or their children (nieces and nephews of the half blood or their children). "Half"’ means they share only one parent with the deceased
- Uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins or their descendants)
- Half uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins of the half blood or their children). "Half" means they only share one grandparent with the deceased, not both
Note that once the highest related relative has claimed, it negates claims made by lower down relatives.
So if you are, for example, a first cousin, you would only be entitled a share in the estate if there are no relatives above you in this order.
Commenting on the Unclaimed Estates Index, Philip Turvey, executive director at Anglia Research, said: “With COVID-19 restrictions being extended until 19th July, it appears that the pandemic is going to rumble on longer than anyone of us want.
"With that in mind, I urge anyone living in any of the areas listed in our index to investigate their family tree, look at the official Bona Vacantia list, and see if they are the rightful beneficiary of one of the thousands of unclaimed estates.
“They could be unknowingly sitting on a goldmine which could completely transform their lives.
"Likewise, don’t immediately reject a phone call or ignore a letter from a probate genealogist, they could be the middleman between you and the opportunity to kiss your financial concerns goodbye.”
One such lucky heir was Rebecca Garnsey, who was shocked when she got a call from heir hunters who told her she was due £10,000 after tracking her down.
The 47-year-old small business owner from Okehampton, Devon only vaguely remembered her dad's first cousin Derek Mercer, and assumed he had died years earlier.
But it turned out that Derek, from Hastings, East Sussex, had a £250,000 estate, including a house, when he passed away aged 74 in May 2018.
And as he hadn't left a will, it meant his estate legally had to be split between his 21 remaining relatives, including Rebecca.
Margaret Abbotts, 81, from London also inherited more than £300,000 from a half sister she never knew.
She was contacted out of the blue by Finders International after they'd found she was entitled to cash left behind by a long list half-sister.
How do I find a lost estate?
You can check this list, which is updated daily, online for free to see if any names stand out, although it won't tell you how much their estate is worth.
For the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster you need to contact Farrer and Co.
The rules are different in Scotland – see the Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer website for more info. In Northern Ireland you need to phone the Crown Solicitor’s Office on 028 9054 6037.
You can do all of this yourself or you can employ heir hunters to do it for you.
Just bear in mind heir hunters will take a cut of any estate found and they may charge additional fees on top, as well as solicitors' fees.
So always do your research first and double check if you'll be charged a fee even if no lost estate is found.
Finders says fees vary by case but it will typically take 15% to 20% of any eventual cash you get back. It won't charge you if it doesn't find an estate on your behalf.
Top places for unclaimed states
1 Birmingham – 187
2 Camden – 131
3 Leeds – 122
4 Bradford – 76
5 Lewisham – 71
6 Nottingham – 69
7 Leicester – 69
8 Southampton – 62
9 Croydon – 58
10 Hammersmith – 57
11 Southall – 54
12 Sheffield – 54
13 Lambert – 54
14 Bristol – 52
15 Paddington – 41
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