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The Heir Hunters – What does a Probate Genealogist Do?

The Heir Hunters – What does a Probate Genealogist Do?

A probate genealogist is a detective. What are they investigating, you ask? They’re looking for the rightful recipients of the estates of people who have died with no known heirs.

You may think that it should be easy to find the family members of a deceased person. However, family trees are complicated. Although it may seem tempting to tackle the search yourself, the legal process of finding the correct recipients should fall to those who are qualified.

The probate genealogist performs in-depth research on the family tree of the deceased person. Eventually, they’re able to determine and locate the heirs. This kind of detective work is similar to solving a crime. It requires meticulous attention to detail and knowledge of the relevant legalities. The hunt for an heir is an exciting occupation.

Will vs Probate

Probate Genealogy is a legal field. As such, there are several legal terms used that need clarification. Let’s clear things up.

You’ve probably heard of the terms probate and will when discussing inheritance, but although often used in the same sentence, they are two different concepts.

What is the difference between a will and probate? A will is a legal document written up by a person determining who their estate goes to. Probate refers to all of the paperwork and processes associated with the administration of the estate.

Two other valuable terms are testate and intestate. Not common vocabulary, the meanings are simple enough. Testate refers to the execution of an existing will. Intestate refers to the execution of an estate with no existing will.


A Day in the Life of an Heir Hunter

With sites like ancestry.com, the field of family tree research is an increasingly popular hobby. Many people spend hours exploring their ancestry, often finding fascinating details about their family and long-distant relatives they didn’t know they had. Comparatively, the field of probate genealogy isn’t something anyone can do.

A probate genealogist’s job is complicated and intricate. Colloquially referred to as ‘heir hunters’, the role involves extensive research. It is specialist work and often requires access to records only open to those with the legal right to search them.

The probate genealogist’s work is also international. Families move and settle in new countries. People forget to update their addresses and contact details. Passports expire. Government databases become invalid.

You may assume that people would be easy to track down with the prevalence of social media. However, often this isn’t the case. This is where the probate genealogist and their research expertise become invaluable. A professional knows where to look when the evidence is sparse.

Research of this nature takes years to perfect. It requires knowledge of how to locate historical records, interpret them, and then bring together the case to locate an individual who doesn’t know someone is looking for them.


The Ethics of Heir Hunting 

Although probate specialists are experts in their field, there’s been a spate of amateurs who have offered their services to unsuspecting people. Occasionally they are fraudulent and charge unreasonable fees. At other times, they are well-intentioned but ill-qualified. Either way, when tracking down the rightful heirs of an estate, one must secure the services of a professional.

Not sure who to hire? This is the time to do some research of your own. Check that the genealogist is qualified and belongs to the relevant professional bodies. Make sure that you feel comfortable that this person genuinely knows what they’re doing and are likely to reunite estates with their rightful owners.

The Rewards of Heir Hunting 

The life of an heir hunter is not just exciting but rewarding. Not only do probate genealogists spend their days investigating family history all over the world, but they have the personal satisfaction of doing the right thing. It’s not just about vast estates and inheritances worth a fortune. Helping to locate family members who have the right to unclaimed estates is a high reward.




Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email info@dutchprobate.com or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).

Covid Forces Millennials to Face their Mortality

Covid Forces Millennials to Face Their Mortality

Young people don’t often think about dying. Traditionally, mortality is something people face later in life. Most people begin estate planning after accumulating considerable assets and a family. However, the Covid pandemic has seen a marked shift in the demographic of people drafting up wills. In 2022, it’s the young who are contemplating what will happen when they die.

Writing your will is essential if you are to make clear your wishes after death. With a will, you can choose who receives your assets and what they receive. But for millennials, who range from twenty-five to forty, contemplating end of life decisions hasn’t seemed relevant. That is, until now.  

Millennial Myths

Born between 1981 to 1996, millennials have long been saddled with negative stereotypes. Labelled entitled and overly-sensitive, they’ve had to contend with unfair assumptions that they continue to defy.

Since 2000, their namesake year and the year the dot-com bubble burst, millennials have suffered financial insecurity. Ten years later, American millennials witnessed the Great Recession and its aftermath. Since then, they had to earn more to receive less. They may not have faced a plague before, but they’ve certainly experienced economic blight.

Millennials are the largest generation of Americans today. With huge student debt and increased cost of living, they’ve typically put off having children and getting married. Hence, they’ve also put off estate planning.

Michaela Vincze, a public health expert from nonprofit Transamerica Institute, tells the host of Clearpath, Al Waller, ‘Part of the reason for doing things later in life might be the economic downturns… Another factor is the student debt that we carry and how much that eats into our budgets.’

Burdened with the mistakes of their parents, millennials have put off planning for the future. 

The Impact of the Pandemic on Millennials  

In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Catherin Collinson, who leads the nonprofit Transamerica Institute, released a report about its impact on millennials. She told the host of Clearpath, Al Waller, ‘Almost 6 in 10 Millennials (58 per cent) said their finances were negatively impacted during the pandemic at that time. And seven in 10 had made one or more adjustments to their financial situation, such as reducing everyday expenses, dipping into savings, accumulating credit card debt, and some even moved back in with family or friends to help save money.’

Covid forced millennials to examine their own finances and those of their vulnerable parents. Many, worried that their parents may succumb to the virus, encouraged them to get their affairs in order. Naturally, this prompted them to follow suit.

According to Caring.com, eighteen to 34-year-olds were the age group most motivated by the pandemic to draft a will. Twenty-seven per cent of adults in that age range now have wills compared to 18 per cent in 2019. That’s a ten per cent uptake since Covid hit.

Millennials are also saving more. After witnessing so much financial upheaval, they are even more likely than baby boomers, the generation nearing retirement, to plan for their futures.

Collinson says that her research showed a definite trend toward millennial financial planning. ‘Millennials are a truly remarkable generation… with the immediacy of everything they’re going through, it is astonishing that so many Millennials are continuing to focus on the future. More than eight in ten (82 percent) say they are currently saving for retirement, which is just extraordinary… the Millennial generation, I’ve come to think of as the retirement generation.’


The Great Pandemic Pivot

More than any other time in recent history, people have been forced to ask, what will happen if I die? It seems millennials have answered this question with clarity and decisiveness.

With the worst of the pandemic over, many are reckoning with what remains. Millennials have taken the opportunity to plan their finances, their estates and their future. Perhaps it’s time we dropped the stereotypes and took our cues from the generation leading the way.



Do you stand to inherit from a Dutch estate? Allow us to assist you. Dutch Probate provides a legal trinity of expertise, representation and fieldwork to assist emigrants and expats of Dutch descent. To find out more, please visit our website. Alternatively, you can email info@dutchprobate.com or telephone +31(0)85-0604243 (select 0).