It takes chutzpah – and dubious morals – to call someone up, announce the existence of a distant relative, then reveal a sizable inheritance, which you’re going to make sure they don’t see.
We all know scammers exist. I’m sure you’ve received an email from long lost uncle Tom in Timbuktu, who promises in pidgin English that a small fortune is yours, just as long as you can cover his budgie’s vet bills first. Hopefully no one falls for it these days!
Sadly, probate fraudsters are much more plausible and are currently stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds from unwitting victims by cashing in on our fascination with programmes such as Heir Hunters. They use cold calls to tempt genuine distant relatives of someone who has died intestate to instruct them and then charge exorbitant commissions or fake expenses to recover your inheritance, the majority of which will end up in their pocket.
Currently, the property and assets of someone without a will passes to a government department called the Bona Vacantia division, if there is no known family and no one comes forward after death. Anyone can access its lists of recent intestacies and profess to be a probate agent, as the industry is completely unregulated.
I was once asked to make a claim on an estate by a wily client who had been contacted by heir hunters. Sensibly, she preferred to use someone local that she trusted to work on an hourly rate, rather than pay a percentage of the inheritance to strangers.
My recommendation would always be to consult a solicitor if you are approached by a supposed probate agent. It’s the only way to ensure you’re using a regulated, accountable professional and if it’s someone local, who comes recommended, you can meet with them as often as necessary for updates and progress reports.
We would review any correspondence you receive, take details and write direct to the Bona Vacantia. Once we’ve validated your claim, we can find out the extent of the potential inheritance and quote a fee based on how long it will take to administer. How much this is likely to be will depend on whether the estate is yet to be collected or simply awaits distribution.
We’d all love to discover an inheritance we knew nothing about, but don’t let the fraudsters have the last laugh. If you do get a call, be smart, keep your wits about you and contact a trusted solicitor.