What happens when somebody dies and they don’t have a will? Or no living relatives? That’s where a so-called “heir hunter” might come in. Featured on the BBC programme, Heir Hunters, they aim to find the rightful owners to unclaimed estates before local government steps in. Closer to home, an ‘heir hunters’ company, Finders International, is helping local authorities track down the owners of vacant houses so that they can be returned to the housing market.
Finders International’s Business Development Manager, Padraic Grennan, joined Sean O’Rourke in studio to give him an idea of the work involved in tracking down unknown heirs. He described the process of tracking down the birth and death certificates of the last known owner as a starting point to locate relatives who may be pretty far down the bloodline.
“You go back through the generations, you build a family tree. And according to the laws of intestacy [when there is an invalid will or none at all] of Ireland, when you build the family tree, you would then present a report back to the solicitors, advising them of who receives what proportion of the estate.”
How often does this kind of thing happen, Sean wondered?
“Would you believe, it’s more common than you would think. There are a lot of people out there living on their own. They don’t have any family. Some of them are going into nursing homes and their houses are lying idle. The majority of our cases really would be where somebody has passed away alone.”
Padraic explained that the work they do when trying to find someone is a mix of genealogy and detective work.
“It’s very rarely we wouldn’t find somebody…We’ve a network of agents all over the world. You can imagine, the Irish, generations ago, moved away. So, these people are in the States, they’re in New Zealand, they’re in Australia and we need to be able to reach out to our agents and find people.“
As for how people react when Padraic shows up at their door telling them about some long-lost relative and their forthcoming inheritance, he’s learned never to assume that people will be pleased.
“We can never predict the reaction of somebody. The majority of people, in fairness, are absolutely delighted to get a knock on the door from us. Some people, depending on the relationship they’ve had with the deceased person, you just…you don’t know until you call to the door.”
In fact, Padraic told Sean that occasionally people have refused the inheritance they were entitled to.
“We have had cases, Sean, where would you believe, where people have said point-blankedly, ‘I don’t want that money. I don’t want anything to do with that person’. “
What about the opposite, people suddenly turning up at a funeral or a wake? Padraic has seen that happen too.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a relative, isn’t that what they say.”
Listen back to the whole interview on Today with Sean O’Rourke here.
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