Time running out for long-lost relatives to claim Havering fortunes
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More than 40 people have died in Havering and left behind potential fortunes which remain unclaimed.
In one case, less than six months are left on the clock to find the rightful heir – or else, the estate will be seized by the Crown.
Peter Aherne died, aged 70, on December 6, 1991.
Few biographical details are known. Born in Fulham in 1921, he was a single man at the time of his death.
He had been married. The government doesn’t know when – but it does know he got divorced in July 1987.
If his next of kin are not traced in the next 22 weeks, the estate will be lost.
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Philip Turvey is an “heir hunter”.
His company, Anglia Research, searches for long-lost relatives of those who have died without a will, then helps them claim the estates in return for a commission.
They help trace around 500 heirs per year through genealogy. Some of the estates, he said, turn out to be worth “many millions”.
In a previous Havering case, the company recovered over £100,000 for two siblings, one of whom was able to use the money for private health care for their ill child.
“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.
According to government data, 43 people who died in Havering currently have unclaimed estates.
The data is recorded inconsistently, with places of death sometimes given in broad terms, like a borough or city, and other times very specifically, down to their neighbourhood.
Six unsolved cases are recorded as Havering, six as Hornchurch, 27 as Romford, three as Upminster and one as South Hornchurch.
In addition to Mr Aherne’s estate, there are two more with just over a year left on the clock.
One belonged to Ethel Lord, who died in September 1992.
The government does not know her date of birth, but knows she married Richard Lord in 1924. His death preceded hers.
The other estate belonged to Albert Taylor, who died in Hornchurch in November 1992, aged 88.
“The deceased may have had a son,” government records state.
In 2023, time will run out to claim the estate of Lilian Smith - born in 1911.
She died in the Harold Hill area in 1993 and is believed to have had a brother.
The most recent unclaimed estate is that of Michael Paxton.
Born in May 1947 in Consett, County Durham, he died in Romford on January 19 this year.
His marital status is unknown. His death was reported to the government by the Halifax bank. His estate was added to the public register in April.
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 explained.
“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.”
Approximately one in three people in the UK do not leave a will, said Mr Turvey - “but the majority of those will have close family members who can sort it out.”
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.”
Mr Turvey said it was increasingly common to find heirs in Australia, Canada or the United States, as branches of families have resettled abroad.
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