Forensic genealogy is genealogical research in relation to legal matters. This most often involves genealogical research to define the identities and locate contact information for potential heirs based on descendancy. While often involved in matters of probate, forensic research has additional legal applications, such as in real estate investments, mineral rights investments and unclaimed property. See How Can Investors Benefit From Probate Researchers for additional information.
Traditional genealogists generally research only backward in time to identify additional ancestors. Forensic genealogists also referred to as probate researchers, start with a decedent, research backward in time only as appropriate according to individual country or state succession laws, then research forward in time to define extended family members and potential heirs to the decedent.
If you’re interested in hiring Legacy Tree Genealogists for estate research (also called probate research), forensic genealogy, heirship research, or heir searching, here’s some helpful information:
- We have experience working with Public Administrators, court-appointed administrators, individual executors, and even geneticists in our quest to account for heirs of common ancestors.
- Unlike many probate research companies, we do not work on a commission that takes a percentage of the estate. Each hour is billed and appropriately accounted for as we strive to productively accomplish the work as quickly as possible.
- We provide copies of all documents used to assemble the relationships presented, which are accompanied by citations for easy reference.
We begin with a ten-hour research retainer. In the U.S. the cost is $150/hr ($1500). In the UK the cost is £110/hr (£1100). If you are an attorney, you must agree to the retainer before we begin work, and you will be billed on NET30 terms. If you are not an attorney, payment is required in advance for the retainer. Once everything is in order we will initiate the research process and the corresponding Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship (if needed).
If additional research time is required to bring the research and/or affidavit to completion, you will receive a summary update of the results achieved so far, as well as an estimate of additional research time required. This will include cost proposals to present to courts for release of funds to facilitate advance payments. This can generally be delivered within 2-3 weeks. If there are time constraints we need to work within, please let us know and we will make every effort to meet those deadlines. Client approval and/or payment (depending on attorney/non-attorney status) is required to proceed.
In addition to the hourly rates for research services, you will be billed for the actual cost of expenses for records or other services such as death certificates, marriage records, obituary notices/local newspaper searches, background checks (on relatives discovered, for potential relationships to other individuals), database fees, and other incidentals that may occur. Client approval will be obtained prior to incurring any of these additional costs.
As mentioned above, we can usually complete the initial retainer within 2-3 weeks. If additional work is needed, after client approval of proposed costs, the final report has a usual turnaround of up to 10 weeks, dependent upon research requirements. If success is reached with additional time remaining, you will only be billed for actual time used (attorneys on NET30 terms) or the balance will be refunded upon the conclusion of the project (non-attorneys who prepaid for the project).
In order to facilitate the providing of research results as soon as possible and/or preserve estate assets, certified death certificates for deceased persons affecting the line of succession will not be purchased at this time. Deaths will be exhibited with the use of databases such as the Social Security Death Index and exhibited by documents such as obituaries. Should certified certificates be required later, we can assist in the ordering of any certificates that the various identified heirs at law cannot produce themselves and make them available in an addendum report.
If an affidavit is required, these are generally completed in 8-10 weeks, depending on the availability of needed official records and certificates that may need to be ordered through the mail.
The kind of report you need us to provide for you depends upon the goal which you want to accomplish. All reports explain the results of the diligent and unbiased research conducted in a narrative written form. If the report is going to be used as evidence in legal proceedings, or as the basis to begin legal proceedings, the report must be in the form of a notarized report of written sworn testimony called an “affidavit.”
An “affidavit” is simply sworn expert testimony presented in written form. The “affiant” is the person who signs the report as their personal notarized and sworn expert testimony. At this time, we are only able to provide full affidavits within the U.S. We may be able to provide limited affidavits for other countries.
Your affiant, the professional forensic researcher assigned to your case, begins the affidavit by swearing to a series of statements. Your affiant swears that they are:
– An employee of Legacy Tree Genealogists.
– A United States citizen over 18 years old age.
– Not related to the decedent or heirs.
– Paid on an hourly plus costs basis and have no financial interest in the outcome of the case.
– Have inspected or caused to be inspected documents.
– Have personal knowledge of the facts and matters discussed in the affidavit.
– Believe any statements made in the affidavit are true.
The affidavit then discloses the specific state laws the research was conducted to align with.
The affidavit contains a series of summary charts overviewing the research results.
The main body of the affidavit is a series of facts describing the research results. Each statement of fact presented in a numbered paragraph and is accompanied by an exhibit showing the basis for the fact, including a full source citation. For example:
Finally, the affiant swears under penalties of perjury that the facts stated in the affidavit are true.
No, only potential heirs based on familial kinship and the applicable state laws. Only a judge has the legal right to adjudicate heirship.
As providers of expert testimony, we are happy to testify in person. However, in person testimony is rarely required by the court.
No. As professional genealogists and not attorneys at law, we cannot offer any legal advice.
As providers of expert testimony, we must remain completely unbiased as to the research results, else our testimony would not be of value. If a client shares documents, directly related to the case, we are happy to include them. We cannot remove information from the affidavit and remain unbiased.
Normally an affidavit can be completed in 8-10 weeks from the time of client payment, depending on the availability of needed official records and certificates that may need to be ordered through the mail.
Research is conducted on an hourly plus actual costs basis. As providers of expert testimony that is unbiased, we cannot accept commission or contingency agreements.
No. Forensic research is conducted in a way consistent with appropriate state laws. Each state has different intestate succession laws. See our article, Intestate Succession – 50 Laws for 50 States for additional information.
Yes. Provide us with all the documents you can such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. We do not want to waste resources ordering and waiting for documents that you already have. Be open with us about your concerns so we can address them cost-effectively.