Time running out for long-lost relatives to claim forgotten fortunes

Signing documents - Unclaimed estates

Could you be entitled to one of more than 300 unclaimed estates around Hampstead and Highgate? - Credit: Getty Images / iStockPhoto

The estate of more than 300 people who have died in or around Hampstead and Highgate remain unclaimed, the latest figures show.

Less than six months are left to find the rightful heirs to nine of the estates – or else they will be seized by the Crown.

In one case, less than eight weeks remain for a long-lost relative to come forward.

The estate is that of Joanna Lynch. Also known as Josephine, she was born in May 1917 in Northern Ireland.

She died in Camden, aged 74, on August 25, 1991. She had never married.

Her sister had died months earlier and nobody else has come forward as her next of kin.

If they do not do so within the next two months, they will lose their entitlement.

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Philip Turvey is an “heir hunter”.

His company, Anglia Research, searches for long-lost relatives of those who die without wills, then helps them claim the estates in return for a commission.

They trace around 500 heirs per year through genealogy. Some of the estates, he said, turn out to be worth “many millions”.

The process can be complicated. One Camden case resulted in a man inheriting a property from somebody he wasn’t even related to.

He was the adopted son of the deceased’s half-brother's father.

In another case, after a Highgate resident died and left a £500,000 estate, the company secured inheritances for cousins who had previously been told they would get nothing.

In doing so, it also reunited one beneficiary with their long-lost sister.

“The government department will accept a claim from any relative who can prove that they have an entitlement for up to 12 years from the date of death, and pay interest,” said Mr Turvey.

“They will accept claims up to 30 years from the date of death, but will not pay interest."

But after 30 years, he said, the Crown will keep the estate for itself.

Local cases

Government data shows around 320 people who lived in or around Hampstead and Highgate have died and left unclaimed estates.

The places of death are recorded inconsistently, sometimes given in broad terms - like Camden, which has 174 unclaimed estates, or Haringey, which has six - but other times far more specific, like Belsize Park, with two cases, or Muswell Hill, with 16.

One unclaimed estate – listed only as Haringey – belongs to a former soldier.

John Doherty was born in April 1915 in either Ireland Scotland, records show.

His father died when he was just four years old, and his mother when he was 40. He never married.

Little else is known about Mr Doherty, other than that he served in the Worcester Regiment of the British Army.

His age means he likely joined under conscription and would have served during the Second World War.

His death, in February 1992 – aged 75 – was reported by St Ann’s Hospital.

Seven months remain for his next of kin to come forward, or else his estate will be seized.

The most recently added unclaimed estate is that of Daniel Hermosilla, also known as Daniel Fuentes.

Born in Spain in 1940, he died, still a bachelor, in Hampstead in January this year.

Death certificates

Companies like Anglia Research use genealogy - like BBC show Who Do You Think You Are - to trace long-lost relatives. - Credit: Archant

Why are they unclaimed?

The first reason estates go unclaimed, said Mr Turvey, is that people have failed to leave a will.

“Some people don’t like contemplating their possible demise, so don’t want to address the issue,” he said.

“Some people might not think they have anything to leave, or anyone to leave it with. Maybe they don’t realise the property they bought 50 or 60 years ago is now worth a significant sum.”

Most people without wills will have close family to sort out their affairs. The heir hunters step in when there is no will and no close family.

“Perhaps they are the last of their generation still alive,” said Mr Turvey. “Or they’ve simply lost contact with family members over the years. If they didn’t marry or have children, their next of kin may be cousins. The last time they may have seen their cousins was when they were children.”

Heir hunters like Anglia Research typically start with the deceased and then look for heirs, rather than helping individuals look for possible inheritances.

“That would be like searching for a needle in a haystack,” he said – although they will represent individuals who come to them with a “strong connection” to a known case.

To view the register of unclaimed estates, visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/unclaimed-estates-list