How to find out if you could be the lost heir to a fortune

COULD you be entitled to a windfall from a long-lost relative?

There are thousands of unclaimed estates in England and Wales and some people could be owed a small fortune without knowing.

Could you be entitled to a windfall from a long-lost relative?


Could you be entitled to a windfall from a long-lost relative?Credit: Getty

There are thousands of unclaimed estates in England and Wales and some people could be owed a small fortune without knowing


There are thousands of unclaimed estates in England and Wales and some people could be owed a small fortune without knowingCredit: Getty

Amy-Louise Moyes tracks down people who may be legally entitled to a stake in an estate


Amy-Louise Moyes tracks down people who may be legally entitled to a stake in an estate

This week, Harriet Meyer takes a look inside the world of heir hunting, where professionals track down missing beneficiaries of a relative’s estate.


AMY-LOUISE MOYES does this for a living — tracking down people who may be legally entitled to a stake in an estate.

She works for Finders International, reuniting rightful heirs with their share of inheritance from a relative who died without a will, or with an invalid will.

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The deceased’s cash and possessions initially pass to the Crown, then the race is on to find an heir.

Amy, 38, says: “I enjoy it when there’s some mystery to unpick.”

There are currently around 6,774 unclaimed estates in England and Wales.

Assets that remain unclaimed after 30 years are pocketed for good by the Government. But until then, it’s the task of heir hunters to trace beneficiaries.


THE Government publishes a list of unclaimed estates — known as Bona Vacantia, or “ownerless goods”, which is updated daily.

You won’t find estate values but they must be worth at least £500 to be listed.

You can search the list yourself and make a claim, but the process can be expensive and time-consuming. You’ll have to build a family tree, listing birth, marriage and death dates, and pay for copies of certificates for each person between you and the deceased.

An heir hunter does the legwork for you, for a fee. But bear in mind that you’re probably not the sole heir to an estate, and around 95 per cent of those listed are worth less than £1,000.

The majority of cases that heir hunters take on are larger estates that come directly from solicitors. Those like Amy do the work and in-depth searches to find and contact beneficiaries directly.

But finding extended families is not an easy task.

Amy says: “Genealogical searches involve sorting through vital records, census returns and directories, military records and international documents, to name but a few things.”

According to Finders International, the average estate is valued at between £20,000 and £50,000.

Amy adds: “Social media may be used for research and DNA evidence has been used to prove entitlement. In one case, a body was exhumed for DNA to be checked against the deceased. The case took two years to resolve but the beneficiary inherited £1million.”

Amy is a regular on the BBC’s Heir Hunters, which is currently showing on All 4. She’s worked at Finders for 14 years since studying law at university.

She says: “The job’s a nice balance. I’m using my legal education, while the family history side softens the working day. It’s never the same.”

If you could be entitled to an inheritance, you’ll receive a letter or phone call letting you know. You may be visited in person by a company representative.


HEIR hunters usually charge from ten to 25 per cent of the inheritance, but the fee depends on the complexity of the case, and can sometimes be higher.

The fee’s typically about ten to 15 per cent of the inheritance if there are only a few beneficiaries, or just one.

But if there’s a big family to investigate, the cost increases. You can try to haggle down the cost, and you are under no obligation to stay with the heir hunter who approaches you.

You can approach another firm to ask if they’re willing to take on the research, but there’s no guarantee they will do so, and the fee may be similar.

Estates may be divided between dozens of beneficiaries. One case following the death of a West Country couple who didn’t make a will involved 100 beneficiaries. Payouts ranged from £6.95 to £6,000.

Larger payouts can make a huge difference to beneficiaries.

One disabled woman inherited £650,000 from a relative she’d never met, says Amy. She used the money to pay off her mortgage, adapt her house and go on cruises.

Finders International often uncovers a wide range of items that can be reunited with families, such as war medals, and family bibles listing births and marriages. Amy says: “Once, someone found a small vase, and it turned out to be from a Chinese dynasty and sold for £20,000 at auction.”


THE heir-hunting business is a prime target for scammers, particularly since it’s become well-known through the BBC series.

Fraudsters have posed as heir hunters to access people’s personal information.

You can check a company is legit through local Trading Standards offices, Companies House, the Association of Professional Genealogists or other official sources listed on the heir hunters’ website.

Dominic Green, a wills trust and estates specialist at Paul Robinson Solicitors, says: “The risk with the ‘one-man-band’ or less reputable firms becoming involved with these estates include tracing incorrect relatives, making incorrect distributions or distributions to the wrong relatives. Any errors such as these can lead to huge implications for heirs, and significant legal fees.”

He warns people to be wary of heir hunters who charge an upfront fee.

Heir-hunting is a competitive industry and not regulated by any official government bodies. But most heir hunters are subject to rules and standards.

Finders International co-created an international self-regulatory body for heir hunters, the International Association of Professional Probate Hunters (IAPPR).

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This lays out a strict code of conduct and ethics, and so far, 13 heir-hunting firms around the world have signed up.

l Scotland has different rules on unclaimed estates. The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer website has more information about this. See In Northern Ireland, call the Crown Solicitor’s Office on 028 9054 6037.

If a person dies without a will, cash and assets could go unclaimed


If a person dies without a will, cash and assets could go unclaimedCredit: Alamy

Are you in line for a lost inheritance?


Are you in line for a lost inheritance?Credit: Getty


RETIRED nursery nurse Jill Gerrard inherited around £15,000 from a half-brother she never knew.

Jill, 66, got a letter from heir hunters Fraser & Fraser after they found she and her two sisters were entitled to cash from the long-lost sibling.

She says: “It was a shock and also sad, as I’d tried to find him but he’d passed away. But it’s good the money hasn’t gone to the Government.”

She knew her dad had a son ­before he met her mum. He died in a Nottingham nursing home, aged 82, without leaving a will but he was estranged from the family.

Jill, from Nottingham, believes her half-brother was eventually fostered, and adds: “I did try and trace him but struggled. I think he might have died from Covid.”

Fraser & Fraser charged Jill 15 per cent of her inheritance. Their work began in August 2020 and the heirs got their money in June this year. Jill will use hers to pay living costs, and may buy a motorhome.


THERE is around £50billion of unclaimed money languishing in pensions, bank accounts and savings in the UK.

You may have lost track of accounts if you’ve moved several times, or changed employers. But it’s quick and easy to check.

If you know the bank or building society, approach them directly first.

Otherwise go to to claim online. You’ll need your name, previous addresses and names of any providers you think may have your cash. It takes up to three months for the search to be completed.

You can also try Gretel, a free tracing service that launched in April. You can search for old accounts, pensions and investments.

The Government’s free Pension Tracing Service will find the contact details you need to start searching for an old pension. But it won’t tell you whether or not you have money in one, or the value.

You can make a quick and simple search for outstanding NS&I Premium Bond prizes online using the prize checker at

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