Where do you turn when a person has died without a valid Will and the family cannot tell you all the information needed to properly administer the Deceased’s estate? Do you begin the administration process, relying only on the family testimony available at that point? Invest countless hours of your own time trying to establish the family and piece together a family tree? Or do you enlist experienced and knowledgeable specialist to help to check the facts, because they might just uncover information that could change your view of the case altogether? Our recommendation is always the latter and many solicitors approach Fraser and Fraser seeking our assistance because they’ve chosen to do just this. The case of Elsie Wright illustrates why instructing a professional genealogist to verify facts is always best practice.

Elsie Wright was born in 1930 in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. Her marriage to George Strong took place in 1966 in Elsie’s home town of Ilkley, where she and George lived their entire lives. Elsie and George never had any children and she passed away in a nursing home in 2012, two years before the death of her husband, without leaving a Will. With no children of her own, Elsie’s two nephews, David and Robert, believed themselves to be the sole heirs entitled to their aunt’s estate. Their mother Helen, Elsie’s only sibling, had passed away a number of years before.

With such a simple family history, it would seem fair to assume that the administration of the estate would be a straightforward matter. The solicitor handling the estate believed this to be the case but, having a thorough approach to his work, he pursued clarification using Fraser and Fraser’s Family Tree Verification service. This service involves us reviewing the family tree as it stands at the time to assess whether or not it is complete and accurate. In this case, the story had only just begun.

While Elsie’s marriage to George had been no mystery, by the standards of the 1960s she was a fairly old bride at the age of 36, and this sparked the interest of our Case Manager. Further searches were carried out into Elsie’s past and they uncovered a most unexpected discovery. Elsie had been married previously, aged 23, and that marriage had resulted in the birth of a son called David.

This was a revelation that could potentially change the way Elsie’s estate would be distributed. It was previously understood that Elsie had no children and that her estate would be shared between her two nephews. The discovery of her child led the search for heirs in a new direction.

As facts unfolded, it was soon brought to light that Elsie’s first marriage had been brief and she had divorced her first husband after just a couple of years. But what became of the child continued to be a mystery. Elsie’s son appeared to have lived with her for the first year of his life but then no record of him could be found. He had not been formally adopted, and this would mean that, having legally remained Elsie’s son, he would retain the right to inherit her entire estate.

The search continued and ultimately revealed a well-kept family secret that would change the nephews’ entitlements to the estate.

Although David had been raised by Elsie’s older sister Helen, he was not her biological child. The woman he knew as Aunt Elsie was in fact his natural and legal mother. Following the breakdown of her first marriage, and given the societal pressures of the time, Elsie had given her son David to be raised by her older sister, Helen. After careful research and expert handling, a case that was brought to us with seemingly clear beginnings, could now be rightfully distributed.

Family secrets, informal adoption, multiple marriages and a lack of research expertise, can all play their part in making research more complex than it originally seems. Fraser and Fraser’s Family Tree Verification service gives you the chance to discuss the complexities of the case with us. We check for inconsistencies, gaps and question marks so that we can advise you on the best way forward.

If you would like more information about the Family Tree Verification and other services we offer, please get in touch so we can talk through your requirements. Call us on 020 7832 1430 or email us at legal@fraserandfraser.co.uk

NB: names used have been changed in accordance with Data Protection legislation.