How can heir hunters safely operate during lockdown?
I write this as there appears to be concern or confusion across the industry about how probate researchers, or heir hunters, can safely operate under lockdown – and not least the impact on solicitors.
As many know, probate researchers contact next of kin when an individual dies intestate, and this is done through telephone, postal contact and visits to beneficiaries.
Like so many industries, the Government has not issued any specific guidelines for heir hunters, so the rules that may largely apply are in relation to social distancing and non-essential travel.
Support for solicitors and the NHS
Within our organisation and among others in the industry we have seen a natural increase in individuals wishing to amend and complete wills for all the obvious reasons. To this end, in accordance with the Ministry of Justice’s guidelines allowing for completion of wills despite all the challenges of having these properly witnessed, our and other probate research firms, have ‘re-purposed’ their regional representation to now include services offering witnessing, pickup and delivery of wills and other crucial documents.
As many self-isolate, this service which is handled in accordance with social distancing rules, and single car journeys, has been both invaluable to solicitors and members of the public, especially the elderly and vulnerable, keen to complete or change their wills. Furthermore, the ability to witness virtually has still not, and may never be approved.
This particular service also becomes more essential as Saturday postal deliveries have now been cancelled indefinitely and the postal service is clearly stretched with severe delays commonplace.
And then there’s the issue of sensitivity at an unprecedented time: The probate research industry is now starting to see an influx of cases, particularly due to the rising death rate in care homes, due to COVID 19.
It’s well known probate research is an unregulated industry. Therefore, at this time, it’s especially important to call out unscrupulous behaviour in the form of badgering potential beneficiaries in person (or for that matter on the phone or by email). If flouting social distancing rules is happening, this would be unacceptable and insensitive to an ‘on-edge’ nation.
However, there is a key area of death management, a reserved activity, in which we are regularly forming part of the vital chain of events. We have been contacted on many occasions where a body is held in a morgue, unable to be moved on, cremated or buried until next of kin have been located. As space in morgues is currently at a premium, we have been called upon in such urgent matters to assist NHS hospitals, coroners and local authorities. Furthermore, these cases are usually pro-bono and we are not earning any fee from our involvement in these.
We hope honest and reputable firms will continue to support the legal industry and the public sector, where appropriate, and whilst delivering an invaluable public service, observing all the official guidelines in this difficult and demanding time.
Danny Curran, founder and MD, Finders International.
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by David Stoch .