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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).