Heir Hunters and the importance of having a will

By Nina Steele 

One of my favourite shows on TV is Heir Hunters, which runs on both BBC1 and BBC2. The programme is essentially about the extensive research that is involved in finding the beneficiaries of those who die without leaving a will or leave a will that is later found to be invalid.

The show certainly makes for great viewing, particularly when heirs are eventually found, and are made aware of the fact that they are in line for a windfall they never expected. What also attracts me to the show, is the fact that many of the deceased are childless. Childlessness seems to be a recurring theme.

Watching the show is a constant reminder of the importance of leaving a will. It is estimated that as much as 70% of people in the UK, die without leaving a will at all, or leave an invalid will. Dying without a will is called dying intestate, and your entire estate can become property of the state if no heirs are found after 12 years of your death.

The other thing to bear in mind, is the legal minefield that you are likely to leave your relatives with, if you die without leaving a will, unless they happen to be married or civil partners. Also, if you die without a valid will, your wishes will not be taken into account, and your estate will be divided according to the rules of intestacy.

In the re-run of episode 14, series 8, the two people featured on the show, were childless. One of them, did leave a will, which was later found to be invalid. That meant other people who are legally entitled to part of the estate had to be found. Eventually, the estate was shared between a total of 41 people. The majority of these people were not known to the deceased. The second case took 12 years to solve, mainly because the deceased had lived as a recluse for most of her life. Also, the fact that she happened to be an only child, meant that the search had to focus on descendants of any uncles and aunts that she may have had. Eventually, some beneficiaries were found.

I cannot emphasise the importance of having a valid will enough. Obviously, some people may argue that they have so little in assets that it does not make writing a will worthwhile. However, anyone with assets such as a house or some savings, need to have a valid will. The last thing any of us would want, is for our belongings and assets to go to the wrong people and in some cases, people who you didn’t even get along with when you were alive.


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