Posted in Fairness Campaigns, For Solicitors
As a result of our campaign to end double charging for birth, marriage and death certificates, yet another law firm has accepted that our rationale is correct and has obtained a full repayment from the heir hunters involved. Philip Turvey reports.
As I explained in a recent article, all too often beneficiaries in intestacies are paying twice for the same documentation – once through the finder’s fee that they agree with a firm of heir hunters, and then again when the heir hunters present an invoice to the estate administrator for the cost of certificates and other expenses, all of which should be covered by the finder's fee that they are due to receive.
It’s a practice that I believe is unlawful. It’s certainly unethical, and it’s something that we, at Anglia Research, challenge whenever we come across it.
Now I’m pleased to report that another law firm has come around to agree with our analysis. This particular firm used estate funds to reimburse the expenses of a well-known heir hunting company, settling an invoice that not only included certificate costs but also, incredibly, a contribution to the heir hunters’ database subscription.
When we challenged the payment, we pointed out that the estate was not liable for either of these costs since they were covered by the finder’s fee that the heir hunting firm had already agreed with its clients.
Interestingly, in their advertisements the heir hunters in question try to make a virtue of the apparent transparency of their charges, but fail to mention that, in addition to their percentage commission, they will seek to recoup their research expenses directly from estate funds.
As a result of our intervention the law firm requested and received a full repayment from the heir hunters involved.
Other law firms have also repaid certificate costs to estates after we challenged the practice – and several have told us that they are reviewing their policies on dealing with heir hunters’ invoices for past research costs.
I hope others will join us in raising awareness about the issue of double charging.
Most personal representatives have no legal training. They rely on a solicitor’s expertise, and will often approve estate accounts on the assumption that all invoices have been checked for validity and accuracy.
Thus, the onus is on the legal profession to be clear about which charges are reasonable and lawful – and to stand up to problem heir hunters who try to supplement their finder’s fee by further eating into an intestate estate.
For a full discussion of the problem and prevalence of double charging, please read our earlier article: Double charging: unethical, unjustifiable and rife.