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Councils warned about potential malpractice in appointing 'heir hunters'

Many local authorities are putting themselves at risk of legal challenge and damage to their reputation when they deal with 'heir hunters', according to a new report.

Probate genealogy and legal research company Anglia Research says many councils also risk giving money to the wrong people when distributing funds from the estates of people who die without making a will.

In its report, Local Authorities: Risks and Bad Practice in the Appointment of Genealogy & Probate Researchers, Anglia says when someone dies intestate councils should refer it to the government legal department.

Failing that, a panel of accredited genealogists should be appointed to locate next of kin.

Peter Turvey, managing director of Anglia Research, said: 'Many local authorities are leaving themselves open to potential litigation with their lax procedures concerning tenders and selection, with a lack of transparency, due diligence and competition.

'We have also uncovered a number of cases where the so-called heir hunters – many of whom have no formal training or accreditation – have misappropriated funds from an intestate estate or failed to find all the beneficiaries after being appointed by a local authority on an exclusive basis.'