When a Valid Will is Not Enough: Locating Heirs at Law
Legacy Tree Genealogists has served families with professional, traditional research and reporting for more than 18 years. But we also provide forensic probate research for legal professionals and estate administrators. And over the years, our probate department has developed an excellent reputation for successfully identifying and locating heirs for estates around the world. We typically locate heirs in accordance with a will, but in some states, a will alone is not enough to satisfy legal requirements for estate settlement.
Our forensic probate department at Legacy Tree Genealogists spends many hours searching to identify the correct heirs at law for individuals who have passed but left no will in place or a will could not be found. Such a situation is called “intestate.” An “heir at law” is someone that would inherit, according to applicable state laws, if a person died intestate.
Here is one example of “heirs at law” and how you can assure your estate will be divided in a way you feel is just.
In August 2021, we were contacted by the administrator of an estate to identify and locate potential heirs. The administrator was following the wishes of the owner of the estate who had passed away earlier in the year and left specific instructions in her will. The decedent (the individual who had died) contacted us more than one year prior to her death, after learning about our work in probate forensic genealogy. Her goal in contacting us was to ensure that all of her heirs were located prior to the settlement of her estate. We completed the forensic research asked of us and the administrator was able to divide the estate appropriately.
In doing forensic research, we spend just as many hours researching to identify the correct heirs at law for individuals that did leave a valid will in place as we do for intestate research. How can this be? Why would an estate need to bear such a large expense? The answer is legal notification. We can help you with the research needed to prepare an Affidavit of Testator based on the intestate succession laws for your state. This is how you can help fulfill the notification requirement before your death. This can be done without contacting relatives that you would rather not contact. It will also save your estate considerable expenses.
Forensic research employs the same methods and standards as any other genealogical research we do at Legacy Tree. The research meets the genealogical proof standard; it is reasonably exhaustive, has complete citations, includes a thorough analysis, resolves any conflicts, and is soundly written based on the evidence. We are not attorneys and never provide legal advice to clients. We strongly urge you to consult with your attorney for the legal requirements in your state as state laws vary widely.
We are, however, experts in genealogical and kinship matters. It is very common for people not to know who the children of their cousins are and their current address, especially if more than one country is involved. This is where we step in. In many states, such as New York, heirs at law must be notified of the estate before it can even be opened and letters of administration granted. The research necessary to identify heirs at law can be very expensive because we are starting from scratch, and you are not there to help provide the information we need. Had the estate been planned for in advance, you could simply tell us who your parents and grandparents were, and we could order the certificates necessary now to provide proof to the court when the time comes.
At Legacy Tree Genealogists, we are flexible in our services and can provide as little or as much help as you need. Each statement of fact in an affidavit (sworn written testimony) needs to be accompanied by a document to prove the fact, such as birth certificates, death certificates, etc. Our job is to provide you and the court with unbiased information on the family structure and succession line. We do this in written form in a report called an “affidavit of diligent search for kinship.” We are fully ready and capable to testify in open court regarding our findings, or to defend our findings, should a personal court appearance become necessary.
It is important to note that forensic genealogists can make no statements of determination about who will ultimately inherit, who is a legal heir, or the portion of the estate each beneficiary should receive. That authority rests solely with the court. Our role, as forensic genealogists, is to provide the information necessary about the family for the court to make informed rulings.
Whether you are a legal professional, an estate administrator, or an estate owner who wants to identify heirs for an estate, we are here to help. Contact our customer solutions specialists to get started. Our team of forensic probate researchers has the expertise and knowledge to settle your estate according to laws in your state.