There appears to be concern or confusion across the industry about how probate researchers, or heir hunters, can safely operate under lockdown – and not least the impact on solicitors.

As many know, probate researchers contact next of kin when an individual dies intestate. This is done through telephone, postal contact and visits to beneficiaries.

Like many industries, the government has not issued any specific guidelines for heir hunters. The rules that may largely apply are in relation to social distancing and non-essential travel.

Within our organisation and among others in the industry we have seen a natural increase in individuals wishing to amend and complete wills, for all the obvious reasons. To this end, in accordance with Ministry of Justice guidelines allowing for completion of wills (despite all the challenges of having these properly witnessed), our firm and other probate research firms have ‘repurposed’ their regional representation to include services offering witnessing, and pickup and delivery of wills and other crucial documents.

As many self-isolate, this service (handled in accordance with social distancing rules and single car journeys) has been both invaluable to solicitors and members of the public, especially elderly and vulnerable people who are keen to complete or change their wills. Furthermore, the ability to witness virtually has still not been (and may never be) approved.

This particular service also becomes more essential as Saturday postal deliveries have been cancelled indefinitely and the postal service is clearly stretched, with severe delays commonplace.

And then there is the issue of sensitivity at an unprecedented time. The probate research industry is now starting to see an influx of cases, particularly because of the rising death rate in care homes caused by Covid-19.  

It is well known that probate research is an unregulated industry. Therefore it is especially important at this time to call out unscrupulous behaviour in the form of badgering potential beneficiaries in person (or, for that matter, on the phone or by email). If flouting social distancing rules is happening, this would be unacceptable and insensitive to an ‘on-edge’ nation.  

However, there is a key area of death management (a reserved activity) in which we are regularly forming part of the vital chain of events. We have been contacted on many occasions where a body is held in a mortuary, unable to be moved on, cremated or buried until next of kin have been located. As space in mortuaries is at a premium, we have been called upon in such urgent matters to assist NHS hospitals, coroners and local authorities. These cases are usually pro  bono and we do not earn anything from our involvement.

We hope honest and reputable firms will continue to support the legal industry and the public sector, where appropriate, and while delivering an invaluable public service, observe all the official guidelines at this difficult and demanding time.

Danny Curran, Finders International, London N1