Identifying and Locating Next-of-Kin

At Fraser and Fraser, we offer a range of research services to Local Authorities, free of charge. Often, Authorities will approach us for help solving their Empty Homes problem by locating absent owners or, where the owner has died, identifying and locating their executors or next of kin. With our help, Councils can take a pro-active approach to this issue, but without being exposed to the costs of research or the risk of incomplete or incorrect results. Here, we look at two recent cases where we helped Councils in different parts of the UK.

Case Study One

The facts: An Empty Homes Officer at Wirral Council approached us regarding an apparently abandoned property in Hoylake. Little was known – the Council’s correspondence to the address had gone unanswered and they’d been unable to identify the owners. Could we help?

The problem: Not only was no Council Tax coming in from the property, the whole matter was costing the Council time and resources and they weren’t alone in wanting to locate the house’s owners – the neighbours had complained about the condition of the property and the Council undertook work to improve its appearance. Neither the Council nor the neighbours had any idea who the owners were and nobody knew for certain how long the property had been empty.

The solution: Our research indicated that the property had been empty since 2002, when the last known resident had died. We spoke to HM Land Registry and found that title to the property was not registered. This meant that in any event, we would need to reconstitute title to the property. We identified a family who owned the property in 1939 and reconstructed the family tree to show their surviving descendants. Even given the extremely common family names involved, and the variations of them used by different family members, we were able to identify all the relevant family members and locate them.

The outcome: We explained the position to the family members who gave us their authority to act in the matter on their behalf. Andrew Fraser, a partner in Fraser and Fraser, acted for the family and assembled the necessary evidence to enable title to the property to be reconstituted. Complaints from the neighbours have ceased, the property is being renovated and, once sold and occupied, will be a new home and a source of Council Tax to Wirral Council.

Case Study Two

The facts: A Local Authority in the North-East contacted us for help with an empty home. The property had been empty since 2012, when the owner had died. The Council knew the identity of the former owner but nothing was known about how the property was to be disposed of following her death.

The problem: The house was becoming derelict and the garden, which had become completely overgrown, was a cause of concern to the neighbours, who were worried about vermin and vandalism. In addition, the Council were of course not receiving any Council Tax.

The solution: Our research established that the deceased was German by birth but had married and lived in the UK. Her husband had predeceased her and her brother was responsible for administering her estate. Our enquiries showed that he’d lived in Spain and had died before being able to deal with the property. The house would pass by intestacy to the deceased’s nephews and nieces – her brother’s children.

The outcome: We carried out searches in Germany, identifying and locating all the heirs to the estate. The house and garden are scheduled to be cleared and renovated and, once re-occupied, it will be a home for a new family and will deliver Council Tax to the Local Authority.