Inheritance tax can be levied on the estate of someone who has died and is passing on their assets. However, often it can be unclear as to who is meant to inherit these assets if a will is not in place which, according to analysis from Anglia Research, is a very prevalent issue.
The probate genealogy firm, whose expertise has been utilised on the BBC shows “Who Do You Think You Are” and “A House in Time”, warned one in three people in the UK die without a valid will in place.
As a result of this, the company detailed thousands of people could be contacted by an heir hunter telling them they are due a windfall from a relative they didn’t even know existed.
This could be a lot to take in for unexpecting beneficiaries and as such, Anglia Research has issued guidance on what people should do if they’re contacted by an heir hunter.
Philip Turvey, an executive director at Anglia Research, began by breaking down the IHT basics.
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“The basic allowance of £325,000 is still in place, but since 2015 the Government introduced the ‘residence nil rate band’ – more commonly known as, the ‘main residence’ band.
“This is an additional allowance – worth up to £175,000 from this financial year – that you receive on top of the £325,000 already granted in the ‘nil-rate band’.
“In laymen’s terms, this means that your direct descendants will not have to pay any inheritance tax on the first £500,000 of your estate.
“Importantly, if you are a beneficiary and are working with a probate genealogist, then you must remember that the fee for a probate genealogist is always paid on the conclusion of the estate administration. Any probate genealogist requesting direct payment before this should not be trusted.”
Philip went on to cover the emergence of probate genealogists and how while they can play a crucial role, they should nonetheless be approached with caution.
How can beneficiaries avoid being ripped off by probate genealogists?
Philip continued: “Probate genealogists play an essential role in reuniting beneficiaries with what is rightfully theirs.
“Yet, ever since the TV series Heir Hunters sensationalised the industry, we’ve seen a small boom in the number of probate genealogists offering their services, often with little to no training or experience.
“If you are contacted by an heir hunter and doubt their authenticity, you should do some research yourself.
“Initial contact typically comes via a letter, phone, or email – make sure you keep a record of this communication.
“Similarly, check the firm name and details on Companies House and look at the firm’s website. Take time to check any accreditations listed to see if they are relevant and can’t just be purchased for a small fee.”
Philip highlighted that official regulation and accreditation can be checked on through the Association of Probate Researchers (APR).
He concluded: “Another tell-tale sign of a dodgy probate genealogist is the finder’s fee. You should never pay any money upfront to an heir hunting firm, and any request to do so is a red flag.
“The fee should only be paid once the inheritance is settled – this is normally done at the point of distribution and sent directly to the heir hunter.
“Consumers need to remember this when dealing with a probate genealogist and check their rights before signing on the dotted line.”