Recently, the genealogy and probate research industry established a new regulatory body – the Association of Probate Researchers (APR). The need for regulation in this sector has become increasingly pressing and APR now provides solicitors, local authorities and the general public with an assurance that if they engage a genealogy company listed on the APR membership directory, that this company meets very strict standards and is supported by a rigorous complaints procedure and compensation policy.

Over recent years, our partners, Neil Fraser and Andrew Fraser have been instrumental in pushing for regulation, specifically with the aim of protecting beneficiaries from the serious harm that can be caused by untrained hobby genealogists and enthusiasts, who often use ‘strong-arm’ tactics and ambiguously worded contracts to charge an extortionate percentage of the estate as their fee.

Many Genealogy & Probate Researching companies (colloquially referred to as Heir Hunters), have been working in the industry for many decades, in our case, over 90 years. For experienced, professional researchers who deal with members of the public, local authorities and law firms alike, membership of a regulatory body truly provides recognition of the many specialist skills that are needed to run successful probate investigations.

APR at a glance

The main objectives of the APR are:

  1. to protect the consumer (Beneficiaries) from unregulated heir hunters
  2. to set industry standards of professionalism, training and service
  3. to promote ethical standards within the industry through education and communication between companies involved in probate research

Members of the APR sign-up to a robust Code of Conduct, providing full confidence to members of the public, professional and government bodies that the company undertaking the research request adheres to standard consumer legislation and is being managed in a competent, ethical manner.

APR is endorsed by the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR) as a recognised body for Probate Research. PPR is a separate and external voluntary regulating body for professional paralegals and APR members who meet the PPR’s Practical Experience Requirement qualify to apply for the Paralegal Practising Certificate and become regulated by the PPR.

PPR offers greater protection to consumers as it provides an independent complaints procedure as well as awarding compensation in specific circumstances.

Reducing the horror stories

Unregulated sectors usually have a few horror stories and the genealogy and probate research industry is no exception.

In 2013, a court ordered an Edinburgh-based heir hunter company to pay back almost £240,000 to three siblings after their 93-year-old Aunt died in a rest home without leaving a Will. The company incurred over £15,000 in expenses before even contacting the three beneficiaries and upon first meeting the relatives, refused to disclose who had died and the value of the estate.

The siblings were then given a contract to sign which stipulated the heir hunter company would take a 40% share of any inheritance paid-out and the family would cover the company’s expenses. If they didn’t sign, the court was told, they would not get anything.

The company charged the siblings £3.33 per minute to meet with them over two days, plus overnight accommodation. In the end, the company’s commission and expenses amounted to over £132,000 including over £7,000 for the family visits.

The presiding judge, His Honour Judge Richard Parkes QC, branded the frauds ‘calculated, cynical and well planned’.

Other similar horror stories have surfaced over the past few years and are precisely why we believe that seeking and engaging a member of the APR is imperative to protecting the interests of beneficiaries.

The APR’s Code of Conduct and complaints procedure are both easily available and make very clear for all beneficiaries, law firms and public bodies, the standards that they can expect from their selected company. If a member breaches the Code or acts in any way deemed to be below the acceptable standards set by the organisation, action can be swiftly taken, and if appropriate, compensation provided to the victim.

As a company, we are extremely proud to belong to a regulatory body. Not only does APR provide protection for those who contract our services, it drives our industry forward by ensuring updated practices, professional standards, and training requirements for members – which ultimately are the vital ingredients that will ensure we provide the best Genealogy & Probate Researching services available.

Fraser and Fraser is a company of Genealogist and Probate Researchers and a corporate member of the APR. Our Case Managers are members of the APR and PPR. To find out more about our services, please contact us on  +44 (0) 20 7832 1400 or email: info@fraserandfraser.co.uk.