Are you a probate attorney, paralegal, estate administrator, fiduciary or investor? We share 5 ways you can benefit from probate research services.
Probate research – also commonly referred to as forensic genealogy, heir or estate research is genealogical research conducted to assist in legal matters. An experienced probate researcher can prove invaluable in the probate process. In this article, we share the top 5 ways probate researchers can address common pain points attorneys face, and how we can help “protect your back” during the probate process.
1. We help protect your back in intestate situations.
In the probate process, the person who has died is called “the decedent.” To have “died intestate” means the decedent died without a valid will in place.
Most often, the decedent simply did not make a will. There are many reasons why a will can be deemed to be invalid. For example, the beneficiaries listed in a will could have died before the decedent and the will did not provide for contingencies; or a person can be deemed to have had insufficient mental capacity at the time the will was written.
As professional probate researchers, we are not involved in the legal process of declaring a will valid/invalid or determining which family members will actually become beneficiaries and receive an inheritance from the estate. Those matters are up to the court to adjudicate. We do not provide legal advice in any form. As professional forensic genealogists, we deal solely with matters of discovering “kinship;” discovering and documenting who the decedent’s deceased family members were and who their surviving family members are.
Each state maintains its own laws as to which family members will receive an inheritance from an intestate situation and in what percentage. This is called the “line of succession.” To view the statutes for your state, check out our quick reference guide, Intestate Succession – 50 Laws for 50 States.
As a trusted probate research firm, our experienced forensic genealogists help protect against complicated situations in which previously unknown heirs, previously undisclosed heirs, or missing heirs are not accounted for. Perhaps some of the family members have been estranged for many years, or their ancestors became estranged or separated in a previous generation. Their identities must be documented, as estrangement does not preclude them from legal rights according to state laws mandating lines of succession. Need help figuring out how you’re related to your relatives? Check out our article, Third Cousins Twice Removed: Consanguinity Explained.
2. We help protect your back by providing unbiased and independent research results and expert testimony.
As professional probate researchers, our unbiased findings that will be used in court settings are presented in the form of notarized sworn affidavits. Sworn affidavits are needed when our clients are ready to proceed into probate court. They are notarized sworn expert testimony submitted in written form to, 1) allow the court and other related parties to study the testimony and supporting exhibits before hearings take place; and 2) spare our clients the expense of having the affiant testify in person. In rare instances, the court or opposing parties may request the affiant to appear at hearings in person.
Two examples when a sworn affidavit may be requested are:
- An attorney needs to exhibit to the court that their client has a legal right, based on kinship, to open the intestate probate in question.
- An attorney has opened an intestate probate and needs to exhibit to the court who all the potential heirs are according to that state’s succession laws.
Affidavits prepared in the United States for use in courts located outside of the United States are also apostilled according to the Hague Apostille Treaty of 1961.
An Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship is made when we have diligently researched the entire succession line. In instances where a specific family member(s) was diligently looked for and was not found, the affidavit will detail the efforts that were undertaken.
As every family member effecting the line of succession must be searched for, and it is impossible to know before research starts how many total family members spread across how many jurisdictions there might be, such projects are conducted in two phases. The first phase is a small diagnostic project to gain a basic understanding of the size and scope of the succession line at hand. This phase includes the development of a detailed research plan and determination of the estimated budget needed to conduct the balance of research and to produce the final affidavit. Learn more about what to expect when you employ our probate research services in our article, Estate Research – It Isn’t New.
An Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship with Limitation is made when research has been conducted, yet our client requested the entire succession line not be researched. The limitations are clearly disclosed within the affidavit.
3. We help protect your back in missing heir situations.
Sometimes heirs designated in a valid will and/or their descendants need to be identified and contact information located for them. We can help you with this, both in the United States and abroad.
4. We help protect your back in situations requiring probate proceeding notifications.
Many state laws require heir-at-law notifications. This occurs when an estate has been opened, or will soon be opened, for a decedent who had a valid will; however, their specific state requires individuals who would have inherited if no valid will was in place, to be notified of the impending proceedings. Our dedicated heirs and estate research division are at the ready!
5. Access to additional forensic research services.
As forensic genealogists, it is our pleasure to assist attorneys, fiduciaries, real estate investors, etc., and their clients in various forensic needs, other than probate court cases that require an affidavit of sworn testimony. Results for these custom projects conducted are presented in a written report; however, the results are not notarized as sworn legal testimony. The results are diagnostic in nature and are designed to facilitate the ability for our clients to contact at least some living family members. Below are three possible use cases:
- A real estate investor wishes to purchase an abandoned home and suspects the homeowner may have died; but does not know the identities of any family members to approach about purchasing the home. Check out our article How Can Investors Benefit from Probate Researchers? for more information on maximizing your investment potential.
- Oil and gas rights to a specific property have been determined to be owned by a person who has been dead for many years. An investor needs an estimate of how many descendants may be involved before deciding whether to pursue the investment further.
- A professional fiduciary needs to ascertain the family members of an incapacitated person.
Whatever your research needs, our probate researchers at Legacy Tree Genealogists have the record access and necessary skills to build the family tree of a decedent relative and then trace the living descendants who may ultimately inherit from an estate. We also have an advanced genetic genealogy (DNA) team to aid in research issues such as unknown parentage. For more information about the probate research process and what to expect, review our Forensic & Probate Research FAQs.
As a probate research firm, our forensic genealogists are experienced at providing expert genealogical research, analysis and reporting for legal proceedings involving kinship. Contact us today to request your free quote!