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Fraser and Fraser featured prominently in a recent article in The Times about the role of probate genealogists and how societal change is influencing their work.
It is estimated that more than half of adults in the UK die intestate, with around 8,300 estates currently on the bona vacantia (ownerless property) list that is updated daily by the government’s legal department.
TV series such as Heir Hunters and Who Do You Think You Are? have stoked interest in the sector and attracted some rogue players who have been known to charge relatives as much as 40 per cent of the value of an estate in commission fees.
In response to this development, in 2016 Neil Fraser, a partner at Fraser and Fraser, set up the Association of Probate Researchers (APR) as a voluntary regulator for the industry.
The Times article highlights that disputes between heirs who have been traced as beneficiaries are rare where the genealogy research has been done properly because the facts show clearly if someone is entitled to a claim and the intestacy laws, which have changed little since 1925, demonstrate who can inherit.
And, while technology has transformed working practices in many ways, with online searches taking minutes instead of the hours that might once have been spent in an archive or registry office, such modern systems have their limitations. Sometimes the skill lies in knowing how much they can be relied upon and time spent trawling through books and microfiche can be well worthwhile if it delivers a more comprehensive and ultimately better result.
Societal changes such as a falling marriage rate and greater mobility that results in fewer people living in the areas where they grew up have also influenced the sector.
Fraser and Fraser partner Andrew Fraser told the newspaper: “Families are more separated than they were 50 years ago and they don’t stay in touch like they used to, so it’s easier for people to disappear.
“My father used to be looking for distant cousins, but we are looking for nearer kin, such as siblings, nephews, nieces and even children of the deceased.”
The obvious way to avoid these issues arising is to make a will. However, Andrew Fraser warns: “An out-of-date will is more dangerous than not having a will in the first place.”