Frequently Asked Questions

Below are frequently asked questions to educate you on the process and help you make an informed decision. Please contact us regarding any other questions you may have.
Imagine receiving a phone call or letter with unexpected news that you are entitled to an inheritance from a deceased relatives estate. “Yea right, sure I am,” you say, as you hang up the phone or toss the letter in the trash. Naturally, our initial contact with individuals is usually met with some skepticism.

Locating and tracing next of kin is a very time-consuming and complicated process. ARB specializes in identifying and locating heirs and beneficiaries to unclaimed estates. In some estates there may be no known heirs, or there may be missing heirs whose names are known but their whereabouts is not. Without us, many rightful heirs would be omitted and deprived of their legal rights to obtain their fair share of the estate assets.

Our services are utilized by public administrators, estate attorneys, financial institutions, insurance companies, and personal representatives as well as individuals to provide evidence in establishing heirship. We are not involved with government unclaimed property programs whereby individuals can make their own claim to abandoned property held for them by their state of residence. We do not act for people who want to find out if they are owed any money. ARB serves as a critical independent "checks and balances" by preventing potential fraudulent claims made by unlawful heirs or claimants.
When someone dies without a will, their estate assets should be distributed to their closest living relatives. Unfortunately, sometimes no close relatives are known. We monitor and audit unclaimed estates in order to identify any potential missing heirs and beneficiaries who may be legally entitled to a share of the estate assets. In some cases, the individuals we contact are either totally unaware of their relationship to the deceased, or have only a vague recollection of a distant relative. Alternatively, we may contact you to help us locate someone you know or may have known (such as a relative, friend, neighbor, or coworker) because we believe they may be entitled to an inheritance.

Before contacting anyone, we conduct in-depth research to assess the merits of any case or claim. If no eligible heirs are located, the estate assets are eventually forfeited to the government. When someone with no known relatives dies intestate, you may be contacted by multiple research firms. In these cases, no specific company is appointed by the court to ensure that the estate assets reaches its rightful owners. Each company acts independently at its own discretion and initiative. Before signing anything, be sure the company you decide to work with is reputable and trustworthy.

ARB is not involved with any government unclaimed property programs whereby individuals can make their own claim to abandoned property held for them by their state. We are also not a debt collection agency and do not contact individuals regarding outstanding debts.
As a licensed Private Investigation firm, we have access to vast archives involving past and present public information. Those records along with our genealogical resources enable us to find individuals at newer, more current addresses. You can rest assured that your personal information will never be shared with a third party without your permission and that they will only ever be used in the context of the research we are conducting.
ARB provides a critical check and balance in the probate process. If it wasn’t for us, many legitimate heirs would be omitted and deprived their rightful inheritance. ARB provides a valuable service by locating the lawful heirs and beneficiaries who may be entitled to an inheritance from the estate of a relative who died without a will. ARB helps prevent potential fraudulent claims made by unlawful heirs. Without us, many rightful heirs would never even know they had an unclaimed inheritance coming to them, and many unclaimed inheritance assets would eventually become government property.

Taking on a missing inheritance, unclaimed inheritance, or missing heir claim on your own – proving your own inheritance claim – can be a lengthy, difficult and costly task. And often result in a lot of wasted time and effort. You can repair your own car, or even represent yourself in court, however, some jobs are best left to trusted professionals – in this case, professional probate researchers and genealogists.

When ARB takes on your case, all the investigative research and related work is done for you, guaranteeing accuracy, efficiency and a lack of wasted time, effort and money. That is exactly why ARB is recommended by many of the top Probate & Estate Planning attorneys. Our fees are payable only on a successful outcome when the estate distributes. If there is no recovery, there is no financial obligation to compensate us anything.
"Probate" means proof. Probate is a court-supervised process for transferring ownership of someone's assets after he or she dies. This process validates the person's will and distributes property as the will directs. If the decedent left no will or other legal arrangement for transferring assets upon death, the estate may still go through probate. The goal of probate is to protect the rights of heirs or other potential beneficiaries and others who have an interest in an estate. Probate determines what the estate owes in taxes and to creditors.

In every state there are laws that list the order of heirs. These laws are called laws of intestate succession. When a person dies intestate, or without a will, the laws of the state where s/he resided determine how the estate is distributed. According to these laws, specific family members, or heirs, have a right to inherit a share of the decedent's property. These laws are typically found in a state's probate code. Although state laws vary, there is a common hierarchy of heirs.
We are always reluctant to answer this question since probate, by nature, is not a simple process and probate jurisdictions vary widely. Different factors may have an influence, perhaps due to regions affected by war, the preservation of vital records and documents, the reliability of certain administrations, the difficulty in locating heirs/beneficiaries, and more.

Estates complicated by potential heirs who reside outside the United States, overseas assets, real estate, and cross-border estates, can take several years to be resolved. While we can't tell you exactly how long it will take to settle the estate, it is our experience that it usually takes 12 to 36 months for the administrator to complete the probate process and distribute funds to the heirs.

There are a number of factors that affect the probate process. Here are just a few:

1. The administrator must sell all of the estate property and pay all the estate debts.
2. The court must schedule hearings to approve and review the steps taken by the administrator.
3. Complexity of the tax situation (for example: 9 month minimum if Federal estate tax return is required).
4. Disputes between heirs on the validity of a will or how assets should be distributed.
5. Disputes over external/internal claims on the estate.
6. Types of assets in the estate (cash only estates are much easier than estates with business or valuables that need to be appraised and sold).
7. Mandatory creditor claims period (often 90 days).
8. Efficiency of the Personal Representative and estate attorney working to close and distribute the estate.

Since we don't get paid until the estate distributes, we will do everything possible on our end to expedite your claim, but in many cases there are no laws requiring when funds must be distributed. .
Selecting the right research firm to work with can make your case, while selecting the wrong one can doom it. Before deciding which company to entrust with your claim, make sure to check their reputation and credentials. Working with someone who has minimal experience or questionable background is a huge risk. A good place to start is with the Better Business Bureau to find out if any complaints have been filed against them, or if there are any pending legal actions against them.

Of course fees will be a factor when deciding who to work with. However, don't base your decision entirely on the fee being offered. Just because a company offers a lower fee does not guarantee results. Not only will you be sharing confidential information with this person, but you will also be entrusting them to establish your legal inheritance rights and guide you through a situation you otherwise may not be able to navigate on your own.

You should never be asked to pay any money up front. Beware of companies that require any upfront fees. Most importantly, never sign an agreement with someone that refuses to disclose their fee. There should be no additional expenses on top of the agreed contingency amount. If you are ever approached and asked for an advance payment to enable you to receive your funds, it is likely a scam. Also, you should never be asked to deposit any money in an account to test a transaction – this practice is likely a scam.

ARB stands behind our services with a 100% risk-free guarantee. If you have been contacted or received a quote by another company and wish to get a second opinion, you may contact us to receive a free no-obligation evaluation.
Our initial attempts to contact individuals is usually conducted by phone or letter. In some unique circumstances we may initially contact someone by email. If you receive an unsolicited email from us, we recommend calling us immediately to confirm it's authenticity.
Although the probate judge oversees every aspect of the process, the personal representative is in charge of all the heavy lifting. In most cases, the personal representative (sometimes called the executor) is named in the decedent’s will. If there is no valid will to name an executor and no one volunteers, the court will appoint someone to take the role. The court typically appoints a person or organization with a large stake in the outcome of probate, such as a surviving spouse, beneficiary, bank or trust company.

The personal representative performs many important probate duties. In the simplest of terms, the personal representative will:

1. Identify, collect and determine the value of the decedent’s assets
2. Pay off any taxes and outstanding debts
3. Distribute remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries

These tasks can be complex, time-consuming and highly demanding. The personal representative has a legal duty to administer the estate according to state law, and will be held liable to beneficiaries if the estate is managed poorly or dishonestly.

Every state in the United States has its own set of intestate succession laws that control the probate courts within its borders. Additionally, some specific counties introduce additional regulations in their jurisdictions. Many states have enacted all or part of the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). That said, 33 of the 51 jurisdictions in the United States have not adopted the entire UPC.
Each share is allocated by the court and is determined by your relationship to the decedent. The total number of claimants is based on the laws of Descent and Distribution of the state or foreign country where the case is being decided.

In most cases the exact value of the estate assets are not final until the inventory or final
accounting is filed with the court. Therefore, it's not always possible to estimate individual entitlements until research is complete, all the heirs have been located, and all outstanding claims have been filed with the court.
We make the process risk-free by offering our services on a 'success or no cost' basis. Once we have undertaken the research, we typically enter into a reasonable contingency fee arrangement with each individual heir we locate. This means that in the event that no distribution occurs, you owe nothing to ARB, or to the professionals engaged to perform services on your behalf. This safety net feature places the entire burden of risk and expense on our company and allows equal access to the legal system so our services are available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. As long as assets are recovered, administration expenses are deducted from the total amount and ARB's fee is paid from the remaining amount in the estate, as agreed in advance.

The advantages of the contingency fee methodology includes:

• Does not risk potentially indebting any of the parties involved.
• Relatives who knew the deceased do not have to pay for research to locate omitted heirs.
• The estate does not spend money to conduct difficult or costly heir searches.
• It avoids conflicts of interests between an estate administrator's duty and his/her personal interest.
• It allows access to justice for those without financial means and deters meritless claims.
• No hidden charges or out-of-pocket expenses.
• If efforts are unsuccessful, there is no charge to the estate. We still perform all the work necessary by providing the Affidavit of Diligent Search, expert testimony, and anything else required to satisfy to the court that a diligent search has been conducted.
• It creates a higher incentive to complete the research as efficiently, thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

You may be contacted by more than one research company and fee quotes may vary. There will always be someone who says they can do it cheaper, so do not base your decision entirely on the fee. Not only will you be sharing personal information with this company, but you will also be entrusting them to establish your entitlement as well as many other things along the way you otherwise may not be able to navigate on your own. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. When evaluating multiple offers, be sure to conduct a thorough due diligence review of each company. A good place to start is with the Better Business Bureau. Whatever you do, never pay money up front - any respectable firm will only ever charge a percentage of the inheritance found.
Unfortunately, we cannot exactly predict how long the process will take. Your inheritance will be distributed once the administration of the estate is complete. The complexity of the estate, the determinability and number of heirs to the estate, and the law that governs the estate are factors that affect when heirs are eligible to receive their final distribution.
Typically, all estate and inheritance taxes, if any, are paid directly by the estate prior to final distribution. Inheritances are not considered income for federal tax purposes, whether you inherit cash, investments or property. So you have no initial tax liability on the assets you inherit. ARB is not qualified to provide any legal, tax, or investment advice. We suggest consulting with a tax professional to determine if your circumstance create a tax liability.
Many attorneys and public administrators lack the time, resources and expertise to conduct extensive research on intestate matters. Most states allow administrators to post public notices in local publications informing the public the decedent has passed away, and in order to make a claim, they must come forward within a limited time frame. In most cases, the rightful heirs have limited knowledge of the person that died.

Locating missing or unknown heirs and proving heirship to the court is extremely complex and time consuming. When research goes beyond looking through the decedent’s papers, the administrators and attorneys involved in the estate rarely have the time, resources or expertise to locate the apparent heirs. That's where we come in. The comprehensiveness of our research and extensive documentation assembled for each case, have allowed us to consistently obtain favorable court decisions for thousands of satisfied clients for over 80 years.
At our own expense, we speculatively invest considerable time and resources to identify cases whereby heirs needs to be located. We typically do not disclose complete information about the estate until we have received agreements from all of the potential heirs so that we can be compensated for our efforts. Once agreements are in place, a comprehensive detailed report including the type, origin and approximate value of the estate.
Your share of the estate is determined by the total number of claimants, your relationship to the decedent, the laws of Descent and Distribution of the state or foreign country where the case is being heard, and the final value of the estate after administration costs. The total amount of your entitlement is calculated shortly before the final distribution occurs.
Your claim is not predicated upon cooperation from other potential heirs. You will be paid your legal percentage of the claim regardless of how other heirs respond.
In the event no heirs are identified, this money would escheat to the government, and would certainly not be donated to any charities. You are of course free to donate all or part of your inheritance to a your charity of choice when you have received it. In addition to helping those in need, you could potentially offset the taxable gains on your inheritance with the tax deduction you receive for donating to a non-profit charitable organization.

If you're expecting to leave money to people when you die, consider giving annual gifts to your beneficiaries while you're still living. You can give a certain amount to each person -- $14,000 for 2014 -- without being subject to gift taxes. Gifting not only provides an immediate benefit to your loved ones, it also reduces the size of your estate, which can be important if you're close to the taxable amount. Talk with an estate planning professional to ensure you're staying current with the frequent changes to estate tax laws.
This depends on how much your inheritance is and what benefits you receive. Continued eligibility for certain government benefit programs is dependent on many different factors. These may include your ability to work, your living situation, and any income and resources you have earned. There are several approaches to the disposition of inheritance funds depending on the situation. Due to the complexity of federal/state laws, we recommend consulting with a professional advisor that specializes in government benefits and special needs issues.
Any debt that is owed by the decedent will be deducted from the estate before final distribution. You have no liability since the court pays any outstanding debts and creditor claims before dividing individual shares from the estate. In the event debts exceed assets, the estate is declared insolvent. In that case, you wouldn't receive a share of the estate or bear any responsibility for the debts.
There are absolutely no guarantees in a court of law. It's the same when it comes to proving your right to inherit. Any firm that tells you otherwise isn't being honest with you. All we can promise is that we will maintain the highest ethical standards and you will always be treated fairly, respectfully and professionally. Our services are provided on a “Success or No Cost Basis” and there are no upfront fees or out-of-pocket expenses. We assume all of the risk and absorb all of the associated costs to prove your right to inherit.
Yes, ARB employs court qualified experts who can provide expert testimony in kinship determination hearings for cases that require further explanation and/or determination of the persons entitled to a share of the estate.
There is very little required from you beyond authorizing our firm to initiate your claim. Upon receiving your agreement to proceed, we'll begin the process of establishing your right to inherit.

Once a signed agreement has been signed and received, our work is far from finished. ARB will then meet with attorneys, compile admissible documentation and evidence for use as court exhibits (certified birth/death/marriage records, full family genealogical charts, declarations, or other items) for a judicial determination of heirship. If necessary, ARB will attend court hearings and provide expert testimony to verify our findings.

ARB will keep you informed as the case progresses until the final accounting is issued. You will then receive a complete accounting and your share of the estate assets. The sooner we receive your agreement back, the sooner we can go to work to obtain you share of the unclaimed assets.

We may need a copy of some key vital records such as a birth certificate or your driver’s license. We will let you know exactly what we need to prove your entitlement to the court. When the court is satisfied that we have sufficiently proved your claim, you will be mailed a check that represents your share of your relative’s estate.
A few signatures and a photocopy or two is usually all that is required of you. ARB will handle records/document retrieval, research, daily monitoring, defense against fraudulent claims and paying attention to all the numerous details necessary to prove your entitlement.
In most jurisdictions, state laws mandate that, after a period of time, if you do nothing, the shares of the estate which you may be rightfully entitled to receive, will be turned over to the state as escheated funds, or the unclaimed shares may be distributed to the heirs who are known to the court. There are also statutes of limitation, cut-off dates and strict deadlines. Once deadlines pass or others have made claims, your position may be diminished, or worse yet, lost forever and lawfully irretrievable. So we may be sure your interests are adequately represented and protected, simply return our agreement as soon as possible to avoid any possible road blocks or delays. The time and legal costs to claim these funds at a later date may be more significant the longer you wait to act.
Client confidentiality is our highest priority. Due to privacy concerns and client confidentiality regulations, we are unable to share personal information with others without their consent. Upon request, we will forward your contact information onto other members of the family. We will never sell or disclose your personal information to any third party without a court order.

If you decide to utilize our services, we will first send you a detailed report identifying the person who has left the unclaimed estate and describing in detail your connection to that person. Once our research is complete, we will gladly provide you with a complimentary genealogical family tree chart. In accordance with our Privacy Policy, the information we provide will not include any personal contact information of other beneficiaries.
For over 80 years, ARB has successfully located and connected thousands of individuals and families with long lost or unknown assets. While generally not boastful, ARB does make one very bold claim: We are the "Trusted Leaders in Probate Research." As the saying goes, “it's not bragging if you can back it up.”

Nearly two-thirds of all independent claims made without experienced legal representation fail. The reasons for failure vary from lack of acceptable proof, follow-through or full understanding of probate policies, procedures, rules and state intestacy laws. Research is often complex, time-consuming and expensive because everything has to be documented and each heir has to prove not only his/her own claim, but also the claims of all other potential heirs.

Along with successfully proving your claim, we offer:

• A guarantee that we will be paid only when you receive your inheritance.
• A guarantee that you cannot inherit a debt.
• A free family tree chart for every heir who retains our services upon case completion.
• Experienced staff who are not paid commission according to results or agreements obtained.

We come highly recommended by many of the top Trusts and Estate Planning attorneys in the United States. Our qualified team is supported by an extensive global network and legal support who assist in all aspects of investigation, research, and estate administration. Our staff work hard at not just meeting our clients’ needs but also anticipating them, providing an individual approach to each client to aide in their recovery. The consistent quality of our research and the comprehensive and extensive documentation assembled for each case, have allowed us to consistently obtain favorable court decisions. Choose a firm without extensive expertise and you may pay for their learning curve.

We invite you to visit our Research Center in Salt Lake City, Utah to discuss your case in person. If this is an option you would like to pursue, please make arrangements by contacting us and we’ll be happy to meet with you.
ARB has served clients for over 80 years and has received countless thank you letters from satisfied clients. We are dependable, responsive, and thorough from start to finish. Listed on this website are letters, case studies, and clients testimonials.

To help you verify the legitimacy of our services, it is our policy to reimburse a fair and reasonable fee for legal consultation services provided by an attorney to assist you in reviewing the validity of our services and our agreement. If you are billed for such legal services, please forward the invoice to us when sending your agreement and we will reimburse you.

ARB is an accredited business recognized by the Better Business Bureau (A+ rating) and meets the Code of Business Practices.
When you receive notice from somebody telling you there is found money out there for you – your first thought is that it's probably a scam. We understand our correspondence may have come as a surprise, and the suggestion of an unsuspected inheritance may seem rather unusual. Rest assured, this is not a scam. Our goal is to connect you with the assets to which you are legally entitled, while making the entire process transparent.

American Research Bureau (ARB) is an accredited business with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, as well as active members with the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Chambers of Commerce. Several ARB staff are members of the Association of Professional Genealogists and other Genealogical Societies.

If your question has not been addressed, please call us at 1-800-628-7221 or email us at