What is an Heir Search Firm?
When an individual dies without a surviving spouse, siblings, parents, descendants, or named beneficiaries, their estate still needs to be distributed. In cases when this happens in North Carolina, how will the estate be settled?
There are heir search firms and professional genealogists who run specialized investigations into family history to find and contact surviving distant cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews or nieces. These relatives would be entitled to the estate.
Genealogy researchers for unclaimed estates in North Carolina will conduct a nationwide search, and some firms will broaden the search by accessing international records. Locating heirs is a process that involves both record collection and search, as well as interviews. At the time these investigators notify the surviving family member(s) of their inheritance, they may request a percentage in return for representation through the claims process.
Another situation when heir search firms are used is when the decedent’s designated beneficiaries cannot be located. Missing beneficiaries may have moved or changed names and may be difficult to find without the help of a professional genealogy researcher.
If you are contacted by one of these heir search firms, contact a North Carolina estate planning attorney to advise you. Depending on your current needs, you may want to learn about disclaiming the inheritance.
Unclaimed estates may include:
- Real property
- Retirement benefits
- Bank and investment accounts
- Personal items
- Tax refunds
- Safe deposit box contents
If you are curious about a relative’s lost assets, unclaimed real property in North Carolina is searchable through the North Carolina Court System. As of this writing, records available online date back to 2008. Unclaimed properties are sorted alphabetically by county.