Heir hunters found guilty after taking 88% of estate

Published: 23/08/2013

The Beneficiary tracing company, Beneficiaries Limited, have been found guilty of seven counts of fraud and three charges of misleading consumers after it was found to have defrauded three relatives out of nearly £240,000.

93-year-old Charlotte Cook died without making a Will. Following her death, and with no known family, solicitor Colin Bell contacted the Edinburgh-based company to help administer her estate.

However after tracking down three relatives, the company’s seemingly exorbitant charges left very little to inherit.

In addition to taking a 40 per cent share of any inheritance payout, the company also charged £3.33 per minute to meet the relatives plus billing them for other additional expenses including an overnight stay allowance of £250 per person per night. As a result the company’s bill totalled £132,000, leaving relatives with just over £10,000 each when, in reality, they could have expected to have received over three times that amount.

The Court also heard that the relatives were told if they did not agree to the 40 per cent commission they would end up with nothing.

Despite denying seven counts of fraud by false representation and three charges of misleading consumers by omission, a jury found Beneficiaries Limited guilty of all 10 charges and fined them £25,000. They were also ordered to pay £200,000 in compensation.

It remains a common misconception that family will automatically receive their inheritance regardless of there being a Will or not. But this isn’t the case explains Linda Cummins, Head of Wills and Probate at Goldsmith Williams Solicitors:

“If you do not make a Will, your estate will be distributed under the Rules of Intestacy. Many people are surprised by who is set to inherit under these rules and unfortunately, in many cases partners and even children are left without an inheritance.

“But the case against Beneficiaries Limited highlights another reason to make a Will – failure to do so could see part of your estate go to a company of whom you have absolutely no affinity with.”

Content correct at time of publication

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