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TA Probate Investigation

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A prominent legal firm asked us to locate the beneficiaries of a £2 million estate.

The subject, a woman in her nineties, had died in 2016, leaving a will that had not been updated since 1983.

She had left an estate which comprised a large house in Berkshire, together with various pension funds and share accounts. The final value of the estate was just over £2 million.

Her husband had died some 30 years previously, and in her will, she had divided her estate into thirds. One third went to an animal charity, one third to a couple living in Gloucestershire, and the final third to a woman in Suffolk.

Our client had been unable to locate the woman in Suffolk, and could only establish that the couple in Gloucestershire were both dead.

We therefore had to look for immediate living relatives of the Gloucestershire couple, and also locate the woman in Suffolk.

We began by ordering the death certificates for the couple in Gloucestershire. The man had died in 2012, the woman in 2014. The certificate gave us the name of the informant of the deaths – the same name in both cases. Using all the genealogical tools at our disposal, and by consulting local newspapers for obituary reports, we were able to establish that the person mentioned  on both death certificates was the daughter of the couple.

We then consulted the electoral roll, but the most recent address for her was in 2015. We therefore had to look for other ways of finding her contact details. This was especially difficult, as her surname was one of the most common in the UK.

We had a name, a date of birth, and a location. Using a variety of research methods, we narrowed it down to three possibilities. Three women, same name, same date of birth, all within a 50 mile radius.

In this sort of instance, we have to research each individual in depth, until we can prove or disprove a link. We got lucky with the second subject. Her social media profile had a photograph of her mother, taken in 2014, with a comment about her death. The date matched those on the death certificate. We were then able to contact her via her social media profile. She confirmed to us she was an only child, and that the deceased was a second cousin of her mother's whom the family had had little contact with. We we had our first definite beneficiary.

The woman in Suffolk proved slightly more problematic. Unfortunately, the beneficiary we had found knew nothing about this woman . The address given in the 1983 will had been sold five times since then. The electoral roll only had details for her up until 1993, so we had to try another angle.

We went back to civil registration documents, starting with trying to find her date of birth. Fortunately, she had a very unusual surname, and we were able to establish that this was her married name, as no births of a woman with that particular surname and first name combination were on record. Moreover, the electoral roll had given us the name of a man with the same surname living with her at the most recent address. By looking at the marriage details, we found her maiden name, which then meant we could search for her birth record. We found this, and established a date of birth of 27th September 1963.

We also managed to locate the birth record of her daughter, who was born in 1986.

We then had a choice – did we assume she had stayed in area given in the 1983 will, or could she have moved away? We always start with the most logical option.

Her daughter would have been 7 at the time of the last registered address on the electoral roll, so making an assumption that most parents tend to not want to move their children too far when they are of school age, we focused on an area around the 1993 location.

After much research, we found a reference to the daughter, in the right location . It was from an announcement in the local paper of her marriage in 2006. It mentioned her parents, but the mother had a different surname from the one in the will. This explained why it had been difficult to locate her using the name we had – she had obviously remarried sometime between 1993 and 2006.

We went back to the civil registrations, and found she had remarried in August 2010. We were then able to look at the electoral roll with the new surname, and this gave us an address from 2014. We knew we had the right person, as she was living there with the man on the 2010 marriage record. However, the address in 2014 was sold in January 2015.

Armed with the new information, we went back and carried out a deep internet trawl and came up with a reference to her working in a Dental Practice as a receptionist. We called the practice, and 5 minutes after picking up the phone, we had our second beneficiary. This woman was the god-daughter of the deceased, but had not had any contact with her since marrying her first husband in 1985.

After inheritance tax and other costs, both women received an amount of just over £400,000.

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