Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions regarding our services. If you need further assistance, please call 1-800-628-7221 or email
We research, identify, and locate people who may be entitled to an inheritance from the estate of a relative who died without a will. We contact individuals to begin the process of establishing and proving their legal entitlement to the estate assets.

The first step in our process is determining whether you are aware of the estate in question. Alternatively, we may contact you to inquire about a family member, neighbour or friend whom we are trying to locate – again, because they may be entitled to inherit from an estate.

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 heir search 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.
We use public information available to anyone. This includes birth, marriage and death indexes, census data and other public records. We also have our own private records collection. You can rest assured that your 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.
Imagine receiving a phone call or letter with news that you are entitled to an unexpected windfall 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 often met with skepticism.

ARB is an international probate research investigation research firm that specializes in
finding heirs and proving their right to an inheritance. In some estates there may be no known heirs, or there may be missing heirs whose names are known but their contact information is not. Without us, many individuals and families would be deprived of their right to obtain the unclaimed 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 legal connections to unclaimed assets. 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. We do not act for people who want to find out if they are owed any money.
We locate potential heirs who may be unaware that they are entitled to receive an inheritance from an unclaimed estate. Without us, many omitted heirs would be deprived their rightful inheritance and the unclaimed assets would eventually become government property. We also prevent fraud by refuting claims from alleged heirs who are not legally entitled to inherit.

Securing your own claim can be a lengthy, difficult and expensive task. Just like you can repair your own car, or even represent yourself in court, some jobs are best left to an experienced professional. With over 80 years of success, ARB executes all the research and ancillary work necessary, thereby ensuring speed, efficiency and accuracy. This is why ARB is recommended by many of the top Estate Planning and Probate attorneys in the U.S.

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.
The heir search industry is highly competitive and selecting the right company to work with can make your case, while selecting the wrong one can doom it, so be sure to do your homework.

When someone with no known relatives dies without leaving a will, it's possible several different companies may independently attempt to locate the eligible heirs to the estate. For over 80 years, attorneys and trust officers in the United States and abroad have relied on American Research Bureau (ARB) to locate missing and unknown heirs to unclaimed estates worldwide.

If you've been contacted by multiple companies, be sure to check their reputation and credentials. Working with someone who has minimal experience is a huge risk. A good place to start is with the Better Business Bureau ( – they can tell you if complaints have been filed about them. But even if there are no complaints about them, it’s not a guarantee that they’re legitimate.

Ultimately, cost will be a factor when narrowing down your options. However, don't base your decision entirely on the fee being offered. Just because a company offers a lower fee doesn’t guarantee results. Not only will you be sharing confidential information with this person, but you will also be entrusting them to help you establish your 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 service providers that require any upfront fees. Most importantly, never sign an agreement with someone that refuses to disclose their fee. There should be no expenses on top of the percentage agreement you are signing. 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 is most likely a scam.

ARB stands behind our services with a 100% risk-free guarantee. If you have been contacted by another company and wish to get a second opinion, please contact us to receive a free no-obligation evaluation.
"Probate" means proof. Probate is a court-supervised procedure 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 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 he resided determine how his 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.
Our initial attempts to contact individuals is usually conducted by phone or letter. In some unique circumstances we may 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.
In most cases we are unaware of the exact value of the estate assets until the inventory or final accounting is filed with the court. As a result, it's not always possible to estimate individual entitlements until our research is complete, all the heirs have been located, and all outstanding claims have been filed with the court. We will gladly provide an estimated amount, but the final amount may change due to administration costs, taxes owed, court fees, creditors claims, and other factors.

We are always reluctant to answer this question, as every case we encounter is different. Different factors may have an influence, perhaps due to regions affected by war, the preservation of documents, the reliability of certain administrations, the difficulty in locating certain individuals, and more.

Although most cases are managed within 12-24 months, there are always exceptions to the rule. Cases complicated by potential relatives 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 most cases can be settled in less than three years.

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.

Keeping all of these factors in mind, if everyone gets along, and the assets aren't complicated and the estate is non-taxable, then it is our experience that most claims are completed within 12-24 months. Cases which include heirs outside the United States usually take a lot longer to complete. As your representative, we closely monitor the proceedings and take necessary steps to expedite the process whenever possible.

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. Because ARB typically operates on a contingency-fee basis and require no payment until final distribution, it's in our best interest to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. To ensure that the process is completed in a timely manner, we encourage you to complete and return all necessary documents promptly.
Proving you are an heir is done at our own expense. We offer our complete service on a risk-free contingency basis. Our fees are based on upon successful results when the estate distributes so we don't get paid until you do. This places the entire burden of risk and expense on us so our clients incur no upfront costs or liability.

Once we have undertaken the research, we enter into an agreement with each potential heir we locate, whereby they agree to compensate us a fixed percentage of their entitlement when the estate is distributed. If there is no recovery, there is no financial obligation to compensate us anything.

The most common service fee structure in recovering assets is a contingency fee method whereby all expenses are advanced so there are absolutely no upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses. ARB has long advocated a "no debt" risk policy. This safety net arrangement allows equal access to the legal system so our services are available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Once assets are recovered, expenses are deducted from the total amount and our fee is paid directly from the remaining amount, as agreed upon in advance.

If we agree to work on a contingency basis, then a reasonable fixed percentage fee is calculated as a percentage of the client's net recovery, not the overall estate. If we are paid on a flat fee basis, then it will come from the estate and not your individual entitlement.

What are the advantages of a contingency fee arrangement?

• Relatives who knew the deceased do not have to pay for research to locate omitted heirs.
• The estate does not spend money for heir searches that may prove to be difficult and costly.
• 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.
• 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, as payment will only be secured upon distribution of the estate.

Just because a company offers a more attractive contingency fee rate does not guarantee results. There will always be someone who says they can do it cheaper so don't base your final decision entirely on the fee being offered. Not only will you be sharing personal information with this company, but you will also be entrusting them to establish your inheritance rights 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.”

If you've been contacted by another company and wish to get a second opinion, please contact us to receive a free no-obligation evaluation. When evaluating multiple offers, be sure to conduct a thorough review of each company. If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.
Our fees are paid only on a successful outcome when the estate distributes. If there is no recovery, you have no financial obligation at all.
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 receive their final distribution which can take up to five or more years.
Typically, all estate and inheritance taxes, if any, are paid 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. We suggest consulting with a tax professional regarding any estate and inheritance tax related questions.
Many attorneys and public administrators lack the time, resources and expertise to conduct extensive research on estate 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 missing 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 our clients for over 80 years.
At our own expense, we speculatively invest considerable time and resources to identify, locate, and connect potential heirs with their rightful inheritance. We typically do not disclose complete information about the estate until we have received agreements from all of the potential heirs so that we are entitled to remuneration for our efforts. Once agreements are in place, a detailed report including the estimated value of the assets will be provided. Through our efforts, thousands of unknown heirs have been located and millions of dollars have been distributed to the rightful heirs which otherwise would have become property of the state.
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.
Sometimes it makes sense to donate a portion of your inheritance to other worthy causes. 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 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 in-house court qualified experts who can provide expert testimony (if necessary) in kinship determination hearings for cases that require further explanation and/or determination of the persons entitled to a share of the estate.
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.
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, will be turned over to the state as escheated funds, or those 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. Upon request, we will forward your contact information onto other members of the family. Due to privacy concerns and client confidentiality regulations, we are unable to share contact information with others without their consent. We are also able to forward letters on your behalf. We will never sell or disclose your personal information to any third party.
Of course. Once you have received your inheritance we will gladly send you a complimentary genealogical family tree chart. This guarantees you receive the most accurate version for your records. In accordance with our Privacy Policy, the information we provide will not include any personal contact information of other beneficiaries.
ARB has been successfully connection heirs with long lost or unknown assets and supporting the legal profession for over 80 years. 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 claim attempts 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.

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 some of the top Trust & Estate attorneys in the United States. Our elite team is supported by an extensive worldwide 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 thousands of favorable court decisions.

We invite you to visit our Salt Lake City office 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 schedule an appointment.
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 service agreement. If you are billed for such legal services, please forward the invoice to us when sending your agreement and we will kindly remit payment.

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 ultimate goal is to connect you with the assets to which you are entitled, while making the entire process transparent and simple.

American Research Bureau (ARB) is an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau, as well as the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Chambers of Commerce. ARB is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and is NTIS-Certified.

If you have other questions or need assistance of any kind, please contact our office and we'll be happy to help. Call toll-free at (800) 628-7221 or email us at