THE 10 MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Who is the decedent and how am I related to this person?
Unless the name of the decedent has already been divulged to you or the decedent is someone closely related to you, we will not tell you the name of the decedent in advance. This has to do with our business model. We have invested a lot of time and effort in in tracking down the lawful heirs of the decedent and will only get rewarded for our efforts if we successfully make a claim on behalf of the heirs. In order to prevent heirs from using the information provided by us without retaining our services, we reserve the right not to divulge the name of the decedent until we've received signed contracts from all the heirs.
2. Can you tell me what the value of the estate is?
We are unable to tell you what the value of the estate is, because this information has not been disclosed to us. Local governments and solicitors in nearly all jurisdictions around the world will not make such information public. In connection with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), information regarding the size and composition of an estate will only be disclosed by the government to someone who has a legitimate interest.
This means that, unless we make a claim on behalf of an heir (legitimate interest) that we can substantiate with proof, it is impossible for us to know the value of the estate. And such a claim can only be made, if we have entered into an agreement with an heir regarding our services. We hope you will agree that this is a 'chicken-and-egg' story. This also implies that we do not have a predetermined value for most of the cases we work on and that we bear the risk of losing money each time, since the revenues could be less than the time we've spent and the costs that were incurred.
3. How high is your fee? Do I have to pay you if the claim is unsuccessful?
If for whatever reason we are unable to successfully make a claim on your behalf, you owe us nothing. We offer our services on a strict no cure, no pay basis. This means that we bear all the risk and you only owe us the percentage agreed upon in case of success. Furthermore, the fee is an all-in percentage. This means it includes the costs of vital statistics (birth, marriage and death certificates), extracts from population registers, travel expenses (to other countries), the costs of sworn translations and legal fees (litigation before the Court in all countries involved, notarial deeds and certificates, such as a certificate of heirship).
In line with the prevailing market are percentages anywhere between 25 - 35%. This fee is shared between us and the (foreign) correspondents involved in the case. We have no influence on costs and taxes imposed by the government. They are therefore not included in the fee. Within this framework it is worth mentioning that in many countries in North America, but a few countries in Europe as well, no inheritance tax is owed. Moreover, inheritance tax is always a percentage; naturally, you always pay (much) less than you receive.
4. Do I have to share the inheritance with other heirs?
Until the research is complete, new heirs may surface. We cannot estimate the size of your share of the inheritance in advance. It also depends on which law is applicable. In the United States, the 'next of kin'-principle applies, meaning that one has to establish which living or postdeceased relatives are closest to the decedent. Everyone sharing the same degree of kinship will inherit accordingly. If an heir has died after the decedent, his heirs will take his place. Prior death does not (always) lead to substitution or representation. There's a reservation there, because this may vary from State to State within the United States.
In The Netherlands, things are regulated differently. If there's no will, prior death will lead to substitution or representation. The children of the predeceased heir will then take his place. If someone dies after the decedent has died, his heirs will take his place. The aforementioned can lead to peculiar situations. Hungarian or Belgian law may apply to a part of the American estate for instance. This requires local expertise. Moreover, it needs to be established whether the decedent has left a last will. In some countries, people can still write their last will themselves, without vising a solicitor.
5. Who can claim an inheritance if someone dies without a last will?
If there's no last will, the law determines who is eligible to inherit. Who that person is, depends on the law that applies to the estate. In order to determine this, we have to consider the European succession regulation and The Hague inheritance treaty of 1989. Usually, one needs to be of a certain nationality or to have lived in a country for a certain period of time, before the succession law of that country applies to the estate. In most countries, the order of succession is as follows. The following persons are considered heirs. A higher category excludes a lower one.
1. The spouse (of registered partner) and the children (or their descendants);
2. the parents and the siblings (or their descendants);
3. the grandparents (or their descendants);
4. the great grandparents (or their descendants).
This is a drastically simplified view of the matter. More information can be read on www.luminisexecuteurs.nl. In The Netherlands, the inheritance de facto goes to the spouse if the decedent at the time of death 1) was married or was a registered parter of someone and 2) had descendants. Said descendants from that moment on will have a non-exigible claim against the spouse/registered partner, payable upon - amongst other situations - the demise of the spouse/registered partner.
6. Are you hired by the government to conduct investigations?
This question is anwered negatively. Our services are not retained by the government. If no next of kin can be found, it is common practice amongst governments to expropriate the assets. The government has the authority to sell goods and thereby convert them into money. The revenues are then consigned and can be claimed by the beneficiary for a certain period of time. This period differs per country; sometimes it is 5 years, sometimes 10 or - as it is in The Netherlands, 20 years. After this period has lapsed, beneficiaries can no longer exercise their rights. The revenues will then go to the State. We of course do all that is in our power to prevent this from happening; despite our best efforts, however, revenues still go to the State on a regular basis.
7. How long will I have to wait before I can dispose of my share of the inheritance?
We would like to be able to provide you with a time frame, but in our experience this question cannot be answered univocally. Where estates from the Unites States or Canada are concerned, you should be thinking in terms or years. A Dutch inheritance, on the other hand, can often be settled within 6-9 months. We of course do all that we can in order for this process to progress as efficiently as possible. Mind you, this is also in our best interest: as long as you have not received what is rightfully yours, we will not receive our agreed upon fee.
8. Can you provide me with addresses of the other heirs? Or a copy of the family tree?
Out of privacy considerations, we cannot provide you with the addresses of the other heirs just like that. If we are given permission to do so, this is of course no problem. In cany case, we can always give your personal details to the other heirs and request that they contact you.
A copy of the family tree, living persons excluded, can always be provided. Upon completion of our research, a copy of the family tree will be offered to you, provided that you have retained our services regarding the estate.
9. Can I put forward my own claim to the estate? What exactly do I need you for?
You have every right to make a claim to the estate yourself. You should realize that, in that case, we are under no obligation to share any information with you. We will only do that if we are compensated in line with the prevailing market. You should also realize that probate research requires specialist knowledge (historians and lawyers often conduct probate research) and that you will have to substantiate any claim with evidence. This may seem like a simple task, but often turns out to be quite a difficult job.
Apart from certified vital statistics you will also have to supply certified extracts from the population register, sworn translations along with apostille or legalized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy of the country it concerns. You need to prove there is no last will and will need to establish whether there is a prenuptial agremeent. Furthermore, you will need to map out all the heirs, whose cooperation you will need, because an inheritance can only be partitioned by the collective heirs.
When an heir from another country is postdeceased, the succession laws of that country will likely apply to that portion of the estate. With that, it is no exception to conclude that both the Hungarian and Belgian rules of succession apply to a portion of an in general American estate. You will need acquire skills in those legal areas and most probably need to retain the services of a barrister for litigation abroad as well. We discourage you to try and put forward a claim yourself and not merely because we wouldn't make any money. We have all the necessary expertise and have an extensive network in place in order to be able to settle the estate efficiently. We advise you not to take any risks in this regard, since that may result in relinquished rights.
10. I always thought a solicitor is supposed to track down heirs. What's the story?
The authority in an estate lies with the executor, the liquidator and/or the collective heirs. We are talking about the power to administrate and the power to distribute. As such, a solicitor has no role in this. It is possible for an executor to appoint a notary charged with the administration of estate. Executors and liquidators need to establish who the heirs are, because they will need to hand over the administration to them once they have completed their task. Partitioning of the estate is something the heirs do collectively. Sometimes a notary has to draw up a certificate of inheritance at the request of one or more heirs. If that is the case, a notary may retain the services of a company like ours to conduct heirs research (abroad).
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