Friday, February 23, 2007
The phrase "laughing heir" has been defined as:
Distant relative of an intestate decedent who takes under the applicable intestacy statutes but who did not expect to inherit. This heir is said to "laugh all the way to the bank" because the heir often does not even know the decedent.
Modern Dictionary for the Legal Profession 567 (3d ed. 2001).
See Rachel Emma Silverman, Heir-Search Firms Help To Keep It in the Family,Wall St. J., for a discussion of how heir search firms operate such as Harvey E. Morse, P.A., Locaters International, Inc. Here is an excerpt from this article:
Estates with missing heirs don't happen very frequently -- "The average attorney may only get three or four types of these cases in their lifetime," estimates Mr. Morse * * *
Heir search firms have been criticized for taking hefty fees -- some services have raked in as much as half of the inheritance. The industry generally isn't regulated, and fees are often agreed to in private contracts, rather than set by probate courts; some firms, however, may charge flat or hourly fees, instead of a percentage of the inheritance.
There have also been complaints when heir search services contact heirs directly after going through records and initiating searches on their own.
Thus heirs may wonder whether they would eventually have ended up with their inheritances through other means, without contracting with a firm to help procure the windfall.
Special thanks to Prof. Joel C. Dobris of the University of California-Davis for bringing this article to my attention.