Is using a genealogist expensive?

Over recent months, we have become aware of a perception in the private client sector that using a genealogist to help with an estate challenge is an expensive proposition. Of course, whether something is expensive will always depend on a person’s individual perspective and vary depending on the situation that has presented itself. In this article, we are looking to challenge that perspective, and perhaps dispel some myths.

The best place to start is with actual cost – that will begin to answer the question. And, the simple answer to the question is ‘yes – it could be’. Whether it is will depend on many factors. Most importantly, what charging methodology is being used to pay for the work? A percentage fee can be very expensive if the legacy or value of the estate is of a reasonable size.

If we assume that an heir hunter is charging 10% (which can be at the low end of the spectrum) then a fee of £500 would be payable on a £5,000 legacy, £5,000 on a £50,000 legacy and £50,000 on a £500,000 legacy. The work involved would not be greater of course, only the fee levied to a beneficiary.

It is often therefore a surprise when  we inform potential clients that locating a person in the UK usually takes less than two hours of research time, so total costs can normally be less than £500 on an hourly rate charging basis.

Is research viable when the legacy is very modest?  If a legatee is due £500 or less and believed to reside in the UK, then Title Research will take instruction on a pro bono basis.  This resolves the issue for the PR and ensures that there is at least a legacy to distribute.

Accurately determining final costs for a research project can be challenging when we are approached to put together a full family tree. Factors influencing final costs include:

  • Surnames of individuals and families
  • Age of the Deceased when they died
  • Year of birth of the Deceased’s parents
  • Size of the family or families
  • The extent of overseas research required, and if needed the jurisdiction(s) in which that research is required

Our research on intestate estates is comprehensive and detailed. We go to great lengths to ensure that the family tree is correct by proving negatives, documenting all the events and wherever possible interviewing potential heirs about the family tree. If work is required solely in the UK, it is unusual for total fees for this detailed research to exceed £5,000 – again this normally compares very favourably with a commission approach, especially when the estate value starts to creep above £50,000.

It is also worth bearing in mind that in the last ten years, genealogical research has become quicker and more efficient, making time based fees even better value. Estate values of course have increased and this makes percentage based fees even poorer value – the actual work is taking less time.

Are there cheaper providers of time based research? Are people attempting DIY research to save costs?

Yes, much in the same way as readers encounter cheaper providers of estate administration services and families try administering estates themselves. However, I’m sure all would agree that amateur or inexperienced work can often lead to increased costs further down the line if the provider is not experienced enough to spot all the potential risks and pitfalls.

Contact Title Research for our help in tracing lost relatives or repatriating assets to the UK.

Title Research, Spectrum House, Bond Street, Bristol, BS1 3LG
T +44 (0) 345 87 27 600


Simon Barber is Technical Manager at Title Research 


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