Private investigations: Where there’s a will…


Private Investigations

When megastar Prince died earlier this year, once the shock and tributes had subsided, the thorny question of “who gets what?” from his estate, reared its ugly head.

Prince died without leaving a will, which makes the task of dividing his estate very complicated. Cue the inevitable spurious claims from those professing to be entitled to a share of the pop giant’s $500 million estate.

The unenviable task of trawling through the potential inheritors and deciding who had a legitimate claim and who was just a chancer, fell to Minnesota judge Kevin Eide. In a 19 page ruling, Eide dismissed the claims of many would-be heirs, and insisted on genetic testing to prove a familial link for several others.

Some claims were perhaps easier to dismiss than others, including that of a woman who claimed she had married Prince, but had been ordered to keep her marriage record secret by the CIA.

For us mere mortals, whilst the value of an estate and the number of potential claimants may not be in the same league as The Purple One, dying without leaving a will can cause just as many problems as those faced by Eide. Invariably lawyers have to get involved to decide how to distribute an estate, which of course means costs and a decrease in the estate’s value.

Even when a will has been left, tracing the beneficiaries to that will can prove time-consuming and difficult.

Sometimes a will may have been made decades before a person’s death, and though specific individuals may be named as beneficiaries, together with their contact details, the chances are that the heir may have moved (sometimes several times), have changed names or have even died. The task of tracing these beneficiaries can be daunting.

Often the search can be very drawn out, resulting in a delay in paying any inheritance tax due, and thereby increasing the amount owed through added interest. Unfortunately, the delay can often be caused by inexperienced probate lawyers attempting to trace beneficiaries.

Tracing people, no matter who and no matter why, requires certain skills and experience. Often a trail can go cold very quickly, and it then needs an expert approach. If the right person is not doing the searching, mistakes can often be made. It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions.

As private investigators, one of our greatest strengths is that of tracing people. We know the potential pitfalls, we understand the importance of triple-checking the facts. We never take things at face value. For example, when looking for a potential beneficiary we might ask: is that person with the same surname at the same address really a son or daughter? Could they be a step-child? Is this a second marriage? These seemingly simple questions can often be overlooked by the more inexperienced researcher.

Of course the answer to all these problems would be if everyone drew up a will and updated it regularly. But as that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon, we’ll be here to help…