I am a researcher based in Scotland and I have been reading these threads with great interest so I wanted to pass on some advice to anyone who has been contacted by someone claiming to be a probate researcher (Heir Hunter).
There are lots of researchers who provide a good service and if they contact you, you should be able to ask any question's you wish. Many researchers are one man/woman business's like myself.
We fund all the research ourselves and will put everything in writing for you. If you are contacted you may be entitled to a share of the estate being researched but if someone closer to the deceased is found you may not end up with a share. A good researcher would explain this to you.
Some researcher's like myself are registered with an organisation called The Heir Hunter's association and any potential heir can contact them directly to ask if the researcher who has contacted them is with them and ask if they are genuine. If the researcher is not with the HHA you can ask the researcher to provide details of the solicitor they use.
If the estate in question is on the Treasury Solicitor's list in England (TSoL) or Scotland (QLTR) you can contact them directly and ask if the estate in question exists. You can also ask the treasury if they have had any dealing with a particular Heir Hunter.
All researchers should be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office so that they are governed by the DATA protection laws and should provide you with their own personal registration number so that you can check.
If a company is genuine they may or may not have an internet presence depending on the age of the researcher, not everyone is internet wise but they should all have business cards, letter headed paper etc.
Only business's who are LTD are registered with register house so not all companies will be found there.
The percentage charge by the researcher for their commission is how they earn a wage, you must decide whether you are happy with the amount or not.
If an estate is being held by the English Treasury then the researcher will not know the value of the estate in question as the TSoL do not publish the values and do not divulge the amount until a claim is accepted. The value may be as little as £500.00 or multiple thousands, there is no way to tell.
If the money is being held by the Scottish Treasury then this value is published.
The researcher will ask you about your family as they will need to know that they have contacted the correct person. They may ask if you have contact details for your family members. This will help speed up their research. They will never divulge anything you tell them unless they ask you first and explain who want the information and why as they are governed by DATA Protection.
The researcher may ask for documents once you have signed with them as they need to prove to the Treasury that you are the heir in question.
GENUINE researchers will NEVER ask for money from you to pay for anything. All the expenses are paid for by the researcher, the Treasury deduct their costs from the estate before they pay out then the researcher will deduct their expenses from the estate, the estate gets divided up between all the relevant heirs and the researcher then get their % of the heirs shares whom they have signed.
All they will be looking for from you is for you to sign their contract so that they can represent you and then they will get paid.
I hope this helps you and please always be careful there are many SCAMS and if you are unsure ask lots of questions.