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It's early morning and the heir hunters are looking into legacies
across the country.
They're trying to trace long lost relatives
who have no idea they're in line for a windfall.
Could they be knocking at your door?
On today's show...
There is something very, very peculiar going on.
..the curious tale of two reclusive brothers has the heir hunters baffled.
It could be that he has just gone into a home.
But with links to a stately home, are they looking at a small fortune?
And an heir hunt reveals a dark discovery in one family's history.
It transpires that the other two children are both in a workhouse.
Plus, how you could be entitled to unclaimed estates where beneficiaries need to be found.
Could you be in line for an unexpected windfall?
An estimated 300,000 people die every year in the UK without leaving a will.
If no relatives can be found,
any money that's left behind will go into the Government's coffers.
And last year those coffers were boosted by a staggering £12 million.
But there are over 30 specialist firms
competing to stop this happening.
They're called heir hunters and they make it their business to track down
missing relatives and help them claim their rightful inheritance.
I bring about a change so that the rightful assets
go to the rightful family members.
It's dawn on a Thursday morning. While people across Britain are slowly waking up,
heir hunters are scrutinising today's weekly list of unclaimed estates,
released by the Treasury in the early hours.
25, 13th June.
This list is known as the Bona Vacantia.
It advertises estates worth anything from £5,000 to many millions.
This morning the staff at Fraser and Fraser, Britain's largest
heir hunting firm, are investigating the entries to see if they're of value.
We're working on that one as well, so let's do this one first.
If the heir hunters can pick the right case,
the commission they'll earn will make the early start and complicated research worthwhile.
Gareth, we've got four.
The team has a number of cases which look good.
As the Treasury's list doesn't explain how much estates are worth,
it's up to the heir hunters to find this out.
One main indicator of value is if the deceased owned their own home.
-That's the same address.
-Right, so both were living at the same address? The two brothers?
One entry looks very promising.
We have a case of Drinkwater,
George Richard Drinkwater,
who appears to own his property.
He appears to own it with his brother -
an Edward John Handley Drinkwater.
so that is good information for fairly early on.
So they've decided to work the entry called George Drinkwater.
Early enquiries have shown George had a house with his brother
and they've estimated the estate to be worth at least £200,000.
It's a very good start.
We need to establish what has happened to the brother because if he owns it with a brother,
and the brother survived, then it will go to the brother.
George Drinkwater died aged 82 in 2010 in Uckfield, near Brighton.
He was something of a mystery, and no-one has any photos of him.
But George did live in this overgrown property with his brother,
who was known as John.
Sue Mills was their next door neighbour.
This is the house of John and George and, over the years,
it has become more and more overgrown.
It has just literally become an entangled forest, you cannot see the house at all.
The brothers had shut themselves off from the outside world and were becoming more and more housebound.
But for a short time in 2009, their neighbour Sue managed to make George's acquaintance.
John was taken ill
into hospital and it became clear that George was in need of some help.
I used to pop over every night with a glass of wine and a hot meal for George.
It was the first time I had been in the house in all those years.
The little impression that I got from him was that he was a very sweet man,
that he had quite a bad stutter and in stature, he was quite small and rounded,
with a very gentle, almost twinkly eye, I would say that he had.
He was quite a humble man and he obviously didn't like to talk about himself very much.
Sue learnt that George Drinkwater had been a civil servant
and had bought his house with his brother after their mother died.
It was just the two of them, when I asked him about any other family at the time,
he said his parents were obviously long since dead and it was just the two of them
and that neither of them had ever been married.
Back at the office, the team's struggling to find out more about the reclusive brothers.
So far, they think both were bachelors and didn't have any children.
That means if George Drinkwater died before his brother, the house and the estate would go to John.
My initial suspicion is that the brothers died at about the same time or a bit before George,
but obviously we need to check that out and to take it from there.
The team need to get some information on the ground
and specifically to find out if John is still alive.
I'm sending Bob Barrett down to Brighton to do an inquiry
and to see the property,
to see if that reveals anything else that we're not aware of already.
The company employs a network of regional heir hunters
who are on stand by to do house visits and enquiries with neighbours every Thursday.
These researchers can be dispatched anywhere in the country, all in a race to find and sign up heirs.
Today case manager David Pacifico is bringing travelling researcher Bob Barrett onto the case.
Hello, Bob Barrett.
Morning, Bob. We've got several jobs out today and all of value.
Someone in Brighton, Drinkwater.
Could you head towards Brighton at the moment?
-OK, I'll speak to you later.
Bob is being sent 50 miles away to the south coast
to see what he can find out from the brothers' neighbours.
Luckily, I'm heading towards Brighton. We'll see what the day brings forth.
In the office, a glance at the map shows it's a busy day.
Researchers are fanning out all over the country to work a number of cases that look very valuable.
-We got Bob Barrett going towards Brighton.
-He's going towards Green.
-Mike is going to Plymouth? Yes?
At the moment, our resources are a little bit tight, it is still very early in the morning.
We've made more progress than usual at this time of the morning.
I've got three members of staff in and I want to look at four different cases, all of which are valuable.
If the team spreads themselves too thin, they could make mistakes
and lose a valuable case to the competition.
Researcher Jo has been assigned to the Drinkwater case.
If George's brother isn't alive, heirs will come from his cousins.
And to find these, Jo needs to dig into George's family tree. She's found some family records
for the Drinkwaters online, and there's good and bad news.
Lot of the people involved have surnames as a middle name
so that indicates there may be money in those
generations whether that has been passed down, I don't know,
but it would seem the family is quite well endowed.
The double barrelled names on the records might mean the family was aristocratic.
So on top of George's estimated £200,000 estate,
family money might have been handed down through the generations.
The bad news is the family trees all look like they're dead ends.
Records show George was the son of Margaret Hooper and Edward Handley Drinkwater.
But Edward had no brothers or sisters. Jo calls case manager David Pacifico
over for an update.
These are all about Greens and Drinkwater.
There's no indication if they have any children?
No, I've done the 11, there's no other children.
-Are we saying he's an only child?
Jo's double checked the census records, there won't be any heirs coming from George's father's side.
And the mother's side isn't much better.
I found her on the '11 at a school somewhere.
On the '01,
she's Margaret M Hooper,
granddaughter living with these people.
Do we reckon she might be an only child?
It seems George's mother Margaret is an only child too.
-So are we saying this case is going nowhere?
-The case doesn't look good,
but before they rule it out completely, Jo wants double check the census records
for George's mother's family. Jo's worked out
George's maternal grandparents, Alfred and Eliza Hooper, got married in 1892 in Chorlton.
Working on the assumption they stayed in the Chorlton area,
she's looking for other children with the surname Hooper.
I haven't managed to find any other births that look any good.
So it looks like it's dead.
So the records don't show any other children in the family.
This means neither of George's parents had brothers or sisters
so there's no way George could have cousins who would be heirs.
Jo needs to break the news to partner Charles Fraser.
-It looks like it.
Nothing to the brother?
He's still living at the address,
we think he's died in the last year or so.
But Charles isn't ready to call it quits just yet.
They need conclusive proof that George's brother John
isn't still alive.
Can we do neighbours...?
Let's see if we can get... do a proper inquiry now.
It could be that he's just gone into a home.
All now rests on the inquiry with the neighbours producing results.
If George's brother John IS still alive,
he'll be the only heir to this estate, estimated at over £200,000.
Unless he reveals something miraculous, it's all over.
..can the team pull off a miracle and find the missing heir?
We didn't know about Charles until now because
he didn't appear on any of the censuses.
No-one can predict the incredible twists and turns of an heir hunt.
And when the team looked into the estate of Winifred Neaves,
a remarkable act of honesty
would change the outcome of this case forever.
Winifred Neaves died in Polegate on the south coast of England
in March 2006.
She was single, and had lived with her mother in this bungalow.
Winifred worked at a manufacturing organisation, and former employees
like Anthony Greenstreet remember their colleague.
She had spectacles, she was of medium height.
She had rather frizzy hair which stuck out a bit, grey...
She was...I suppose you could describe her as mouse-like.
Winifred spent almost 40 years working behind
the scenes as an accounts clerk.
Everybody liked her. There was nobody who disliked her at all.
But most of us saw so little of her, that we
rather forgot about her.
She was quite willing to talk pleasantly
to you if you came to her office,
but she wouldn't come forward and er...
If you passed her in a corridor,
she would just say, "Good morning", and pass by.
Nor did Winifred seem to have much of a social life outside work.
I think we got the impression that she was a lonely person and had no...
We never heard that she had any family at all,
so I think we knew that she was more or less on her own.
Winifred's mother died when Winifred was 66.
She became increasingly reclusive, and died just 12 years later,
In London, Research Director Gareth Langford
was assigned to the investigation.
We first became aware of the case when it was advertised
by the Treasury Solicitor in January 2007,
and we started working it straight away.
Initially on the case of Neaves we had very little information,
all we had was a date of death, and a name.
Early inquiries gave them Winifred's last
known address, and showed she'd owned her home outright.
At the time it was advertised, we thought the case was around £200,000.
Subsequently we believe it's actually worth a bit more than that.
It didn't take Gareth long
to find the next crucial step - Winifred's birth certificate.
She was born in 1927,
the only child of Frederick Neeves and Margaret Lunnon.
The team began their research on her father Frederick's side of the family.
Neeves is actually quite a good name.
So once we'd established that Frederick was born in 1901 in Lambeth,
we started looking for his parents' marriage,
records on them on the census
and any brothers and sisters he may have had.
Winifred was an only child, so heirs would come from her father's
siblings who'd had children.
Once we'd established Frederick's birth, one of the first things that
we would want to do from that point is find his parents' marriage.
His parents were Frederick and Bessie - Bessie Warwick -
but we've never been able to find that marriage.
We're not sure why we can't find it, it's vaguely possible that
they never actually got married -
indeed, we've struggled to find them on the census.
So they looked for births
for other Neeves in South London at the turn of the century.
Could THEY be Frederick's siblings?
There were only two other births of Neeves in the area.
Lambeth, and there was another birth in Wandsworth.
So, we worked those, which were Walter and Alfred,
which turned out to be Frederick's brothers.
The team struck lucky.
Winifred's father had two brothers, Walter and Alfred Neeves,
also born to a Bessie Warwick.
But the father's name
which was logged on official records kept changing.
At one point he is called Frederick Alexander,
and another point he's plain Frederick,
and at one stage, for some reason that we really don't know,
he is called Thomas.
And this is all from marriage information from his children.
It was a mystery.
Why didn't the children know their father's name?
The heir hunters suspected it was because Frederick wasn't around.
And when they looked at census records, they could see that
Winifred's grandmother had been left on her own.
We know that Bessie,
who was living with her son Walter in 1911
in the Lambeth area, she's a washer in a laundry -
but she's describing herself as single.
We weren't expecting to see that,
we thought she'd be married, we were hoping that she would be with Frederick -
but she's describing herself as single with three children.
The other two children aren't living with her.
It transpires that the other two children are both in a workhouse.
It was a sad turn in the tale.
Winifred's father and her two uncles had been sent to the workhouse
when they were young children.
Winifred's grandmother Bessie was a single mother in Edwardian times,
and only had the workhouse to turn to.
Sending your children to the workhouse in those days
would really have been the last resort.
There was a great stigma attached to going into the workhouse.
It was a thing of failure, you would probably view it.
You were mixing with the wrong sort of people, erm...
you really had reached rock bottom,
so I think to go down that route, you really had to be pretty desperate.
It seems Bessie had been stricken with scarlet fever, and was admitted
to the Stockwell Fever Hospital.
When she recovered, she managed to get her youngest son Walter back,
but her other two sons grew up in the workhouse school.
It would have been quite a shock to be separated from their mother,
and sent out, miles away, into this very large, strange establishment,
full of hundreds of children.
Lots of noise, strange rooms, strange food -
I think it would have been quite a shock to the system.
The workhouse school at Norwood was an austere institution,
where nurses were encouraged not to show affection.
But it did try to teach the children skills to help them
escape the poverty trap.
The school, like many other workhouse schools, had a band -
a boys' band, it was restricted to the boys.
And the band actually gave an opportunity
to lots of the boys for a future career.
Some went into the services and became military bandsman...
Frederick, we know, perhaps slightly unusually,
ended up being a player in an orchestral band.
So in a very strange way it gave him a career in life,
which, you know, was a nice spin-off of this rather unpleasant experience.
Back at the office, the team was investigating
what had happened to the brothers after the workhouse.
It was clear the youngest brother's line wasn't going to lead to heirs.
Alfred Neeves, the brother of Frederick -
he's the uncle to the deceased, Winifred -
he was born in 1905, and he married in 1933 to an Amy Maud Gibbons.
They had one son, William -
unfortunately that child died in infancy.
The other brother's family looked more promising.
The other sibling of Frederick is Walter.
Walter Neeves was born in 1903,
and he married a Nellie Ward. He had two children.
One was an Eric Frederick, who unfortunately passed away
without having any issue.
But Walter DID have a daughter, who would be Winifred's cousin.
It was great news. The company had their first heir.
Winifred's cousin agreed to sign with the heir hunters,
and act as an administrator to the estate.
Now the team was making headway with the investigation
of Winifred Neaves' estimated £200,000 estate.
But the wheels were going to come off this heir hunt in quite
a spectacular fashion.
Heir hunters solve thousands of cases a year, and millions of pounds
are paid out to rightful heirs.
But not every case can be cracked.
The Treasury has a list of over 2,000 estates,
which have baffled the heir hunters and remain unsolved.
Could you be the heir they've been searching for?
Are you in line for a windfall worth hundreds, thousands or even millions
Estates stay on the list for up to 30 years,
and today we're focusing on three names.
Are they relatives of yours?
Marie Teresa Jaconelli died in South Shields in Tyne and Wear, in 2008.
If heirs aren't found, her money will go to the government.
Did you know Margaret Lamonby, who died in April in 2000 in Enfield,
Lamonby is a rare surname - only three people in a million
have this name in England and Wales.
Also on our list is Olwyn Muriel Oliver, who was from
Bartestree in Herefordshire and died in August 1999.
All efforts to trace her relatives have drawn a blank.
-If the names Marie Jaconelli,
-Margaret Lamonby or Olwyn Oliver
mean anything to you or someone you know,
you could have an unexpected windfall coming your way.
The heir hunters are struggling to investigate
the case of George Drinkwater, who died in Sussex in 2010 without leaving a will.
Sue Mills was a next-door neighbour to the elderly civil servant,
who lived in this overgrown house with his brother, John.
I can't say that I knew him very well, as did the same for all neighbours in the road,
because they were very, very reclusive
and very much kept themselves to themselves.
The heir hunters have worked out that George didn't have any aunts or uncles...
No indication whether they've got any other children?
No, I've done the 11, there's no other children.
..so the team have drawn a blank finding cousins to inherit a potentially very valuable estate.
Everything now rests on whether George's brother, John, is still alive.
It could be that he's just gone into a home.
The office is still anxiously waiting to hear back from travelling researcher Bob Barrett.
He's gone to the south coast to do an inquiry with George's neighbours.
So in the meantime, researcher Jo decides to see if she can find out
any more about John Drinkwater by herself.
She's managed to find a phone number for one of George's neighbours,
who happens to be in.
You can understand, to be fair, they were quite old as well, weren't they?
So in later life, they probably got even more reclusive.
Yeah, it's understandable when you're living together that long.
But it's not looking good.
Thanks so much for your help, then.
Thank you, take care, bye-bye.
And as soon as she's off the phone,
Jo goes to update partner Charles about the brothers.
Er, the neighbour said they died within days of each other.
And he had no siblings?
It's bad news for the heir hunters.
George's brother, John, passed away the very same day that George died.
In fact, it was the brothers' neighbour, Sue Mills, who found them,
after she'd been alerted by a home help that something was wrong.
I looked through the letterbox and I could see George was clearly dead
on the floor by the door. It wasn't gruesome or anything like that,
he'd just collapsed there. It looked like a chair had fallen over.
But I was very concerned because I couldn't see John anywhere.
Sue quickly called the police, who broke into the property
to find John Drinkwater.
From my understanding, what had happened was that they had found John
had laid down next to George to die next to him.
And actually, when they went in there, he was still alive,
and they took him off to hospital, but he died within about half an hour
of them getting to the hospital.
Sue firmly believes that George and John had a pact
to not outlive the other.
There was no family
and they knew that one of them wasn't going to survive the other.
Then perhaps that was the reason why there wasn't a will.
Back at the office, the news that
George Drinkwater has no living heirs is a major blow to the team.
Unless he reveals something miraculous, it's all over.
Yeah, looking at the tray, yeah.
So that's that one.
The decision's made to pull the case before it uses up any more
valuable time or resources.
Down in Sussex, travelling researcher Bob Barrett is called off the job.
There's now no point in him doing the inquiry.
Well, I've just had a phone call from the office.
The good news, I've got something to do now.
And the bad news is, it's in Lincolnshire.
About 190 miles away.
So, I'm not going to get there for a little while.
It's a disappointment for the team,
but they turn to working up the remaining cases.
Who is working Rudman?
Debbie's doing Rudman, that's valuable.
The wife, Annie, was possibly born in 1887.
Hopefully, one will give them a return on their research.
Oh! So, my tree is going from bad to worse.
It's now 12.30pm and the Drinkwater case has long been forgotten, when suddenly,
there's a glimmer of hope.
I'm looking at the case of Drinkwater again
and an administration has come back for the death of the maternal grandmother,
which says that it's granted to a Charles Hooper, who's allegedly a son.
Incredibly, the case is back on.
Four hours after applying for a probate for George's grandparents,
the details have been phoned through.
It shows part of their estate
was left to a mysterious son called Charles.
Charles would be a maternal uncle of the deceased,
who we hadn't previously found because he wasn't on any of the censuses.
This is a big turn-up for the books.
The team had written off finding any siblings for George's parents,
and if this uncle Charles had children,
they'd be George's cousins and heirs.
Jo quickly starts a genealogical search for Charles Hooper,
and while she re-examines the records,
she finds something else which makes this case worth another look.
We've managed to find on the 1911 census the maternal grandfather,
George Edward Drinkwater,
living in a place called Bernithan Court,
which is a very large house with at least 14 rooms,
which was very large at the time.
He was a farmer with servants living there with him,
so we definitely know that they were very rich at the time.
On top of finding a lead to possible heirs,
news that an impressive stately home may have been in the family
is an exciting development.
Bernithan Court is a manor house in Herefordshire
set in 300 acres of land.
If George's grandparents lived here,
their money might have passed to George.
In fact, current owner Michael Richardson knows about the link to George's grandparents.
They did live here at the turn of the last century.
We came to find out about the Drinkwater link through
documentary evidence that we had of ownership or tenancy of the house
in the late 19th century, and the fact that a Drinkwater bought it
from the then-owners in 1920.
Michael has a photo album compiled by a previous owner.
It clearly shows George's grandparents, who were tenants on the farm,
before their son bought the estate.
This is the most direct evidence we have of the Drinkwater connection,
because it's a photograph of George Drinkwater and his wife,
along with a number of their friends and relations,
standing right here outside exactly the same wrought iron gates in 1891.
And George Drinkwater and his wife are as clear as anything.
To the heir hunters, the discovery that Bernithan Court
had belonged to the Drinkwaters reinforces the idea they were well-off.
Jo has joined forces with Noel to rework the case, focusing their attention on George's uncle Charles.
I'll start doing all the deaths for everywhere,
-and I'll just see how it goes.
-You do that and I'll do the probate, right?
They begin to cast the net wide,
looking for a date and place of death for George's uncle.
And they also apply for a will for Charles Hooper, dated around
the early part of the 20th century.
Hopefully, if there is probate, we'll be able to tell if he is married or not and if he has any kids.
The office is a flurry of activity.
Having previously given up on the Drinkwater case,
the team could now be lagging behind the competition.
Time marches on as they scour the records.
And eventually, it's researcher Simon Mills who comes across
the right will for George's uncle, Charles Hooper.
But does it name any offspring?
It turns out that he died in India in 1933 as a bachelor,
and the letter of administration said he was a bachelor and he left...
Its representative was his sister, Margaret, and Edward Drinkwater,
The names on the will match up, but it's dashed their hopes.
George's uncle seems to have died without marrying or having children.
It all looks dead. I doubt there's any issue.
We can't find a marriage for him, but because he was in India...
..we don't know.
It's a massive blow for the team.
After so many false starts,
and despite indications that the Drinkwater estate could be very valuable,
the company has to put the case to bed.
There's no way of tracing children that Charles could have had
out of wedlock in India.
As far as we're concerned, there's nothing much more that we can do.
Doesn't rule out the possibility that he may have had children,
but without knowing who they were and where they were,
there's just no way of finding who they are.
As the day draws to a close, partner Charles Fraser has the chance
to reflect on the story of the Drinkwater brothers they spent so much time researching.
Here, obviously, we had two brothers who died on about the same day.
Very sad, very tragic.
Yes, it brings things home to us all.
But down in Sussex, Sue Mills sees their story differently.
She was the neighbour who found the brothers on the day they died.
Some might say it's a very sad ending but actually I think it was
just what they wanted,
and I don't think one would have survived without the other at all.
Their lives were so intertwined and so dependent on each other.
It was quite an extraordinary relationship.
Actually, I think it was quite a happy ending, in a sad way.
So George Drinkwater's heirs may never be found.
Unless you or someone you know is aware of children born to
a Charles Hooper who lived in India in the early 1900s.
Otherwise George's estate, estimated at over £200,000,
will go to the Treasury.
Sometimes in an heir hunt, the most seemingly simple case
will have a twist in the tail.
That was the story when the heir hunters
investigated Winifred Neaves.
She was an accounts clerk who died in Sussex aged 78
without leaving a will.
She was a very retiring person. She wasn't shy if you met her,
but she never pushed herself forward.
She was a very pleasant person to talk to on the rare occasions
that one met her and talked to her.
Believing Winifred had left behind an estimated £200,000,
the team was piecing together the story of her family.
So far, they've found one heir on Winifred's father's side.
It became apparent quite quickly that there were going to be
five stems on this case, and she was entitled to one fifth
of the estate.
Research director Gareth Langford now turned his attention
to her mother's family, which like Neaves, was another unusual name.
On the maternal side of the Neaves case, we were
quite lucky. Firstly, it's a very good surname,
Lunnon, a very unusual surname.
Also, the family established themselves in Lambeth
and they stay in Lambeth.
They'd worked out Winifred's mother was a Margaret Lunnon,
the daughter of Henry and Catherine Lunnon, who lived in South London.
Any of Margaret's nieces and nephews would be heirs to Winifred's estate.
As soon as we got the birth of Margaret, we started
looking for her brothers and sisters.
We discovered that she had 10 siblings,
which is obviously quite a lot.
But from our point of view, the good part of her brothers and sisters were
that they were all born in Lambeth.
We looked at the Lambeth births of Lunnon and they were all our family.
So far so good.
The team had the names of all of Winifred's aunts and uncles.
They started with one of the aunts, Grace Lunnon.
Did she have any children who might be heirs?
She was born in 1893 and she married a Gabriel Rodriguez,
which you would think initially would be maybe Portuguese.
But he was actually born in India.
Genealogical research traced Grace's descendants to both India and Canada
and in total the team managed to sign 12 heirs
from overseas to help them make a claim on Winifred's estate.
It really was becoming an international case.
The company's costs were mounting, but believing
that the case was worth £200,000,
the heir hunters gambled that the time and expense were worth it.
Some cases that we look at, we can wrap up the entire family in
a matter of days.
Other cases take a bit longer.
I think really,
if you look back, it took us nearly three months to finalise this case.
The team managed to trace all the stems from Winifred's extended
family and eventually found one heir closer to home.
Winifred's Uncle Henry had a grandchild who lived in Somerset.
Lorraine Davies was astonished to hear about the surprise inheritance
when she came home from work one day.
I walked down the drive, came through the door and as soon as
I got through the door, the bell went.
There was this gentleman there who said he was from
a company called Fraser and Fraser.
They were looking into...
..the testate will, which
I might have been involved with because I was part of the family.
I told my husband and he thought it was quite exciting as well really,
because the prospect of any kind of money from out of the blue!
Lorraine had no idea who Winifred was and had to have
the family connection explained to her.
Probably I'd never heard of her because my grandfather died the year before
I was born, in 1947. So, I think
she had lost contact with a lot of his side of the family.
But the news has given her the urge to join the dots together
with her unknown family.
In a way, yes, it has whetted the appetite to find out a bit
more about the direct family, sort of just go back a couple of generations.
Back at the office, the heir hunters were working on the claims
to Winifred's estate, estimated at £200,000.
There was a mountain of paperwork to process for
the 23 heirs dotted around the world.
Case Manager, Tony Pledger, was in charge of the inquiry,
but in September 2007 he had some news which left him reeling.
The matter had been accepted.
The whole thing was going ahead.
The administrator is in the property, making arrangements to
clear the assets, etc, and they found a will.
In amongst Winifred's belongings,
her cousin had found a brown envelope which contained a document.
Incredibly, it looked like Winifred's last will and testament.
Usually, these cases are sent to the Treasury Solicitor
because there is no valid will.
So, it's unusual for one to pop up.
So, obviously, when one does occur, we need to look at it very closely.
We are really making sure that that will is actually a valid will.
Every part of it is actually what the deceased wanted to say.
That it has being witnessed correctly,
that the deceased has signed it, all the addresses tally up.
So, there are lots
of clues for an invalid will, but this one was the genuine article.
Winifred's will stated that her entire estate go to, not
relatives...but to charity.
St Dunstan's is a care centre for blind ex-servicemen,
based just miles from where Winifred lived at Polegate.
Winifred's bequest turned out to be worth £300,000, and
Marketing Manager Dan Carter knows the difference that money will make.
We rely heavily upon these legacies, and we just basically couldn't
continue the service that we provide without
people leaving gifts in their wills.
The charity was started in 1914
by Sir Arthur Pearson, a newspaper owner who himself was going blind.
He wanted to help soldiers who'd lost their sight
on the battlefields of the First World War.
We're currently helping 5,000 beneficiaries across the whole of
the UK, and we aim to increase those services to another 650 beneficiaries
next year, because the need for our service is constantly growing.
Back at the company, the news of a will was a massive shock.
The three months spent investigating the case had
been for nothing, and the gamble they'd taken hadn't paid off.
But that wasn't all...
It also means, of course, that we have got a lot of
extra expense to go to, because we have got write to all of the heirs,
explaining the situation to them,
dealing with their understandable queries that
they may have. And we get nothing out of it, so the whole
matter is a complete waste of a lot of resources and a lot of time.
There is a disappointment to the people we have approached.
They all thought they were going to get a share in the estate.
One of the people that the company had to break the news to
-was Lorraine Davies.
-The day the letter came, which basically said,
a will had been found, and I think that was the end of it, basically.
You know, nothing else was going to happen for us.
I was disappointed. Naturally.
In the back of my mind, although it had been going on for quite a few
months, I hadn't really thought about it a lot, but every time a letter
came, you thought, "Oh, perhaps we're getting nearer to something." But in
the end, there was nothing, and, you get a little bit of disappointment,
but, you know, it was something for nothing, basically.
Lorraine's full of admiration for Winifred's cousin.
She feels she made a noble choice in a difficult situation.
I think, as I've been told, that the lady that was going to inherit
actually found the will while she was throwing rubbish away,
and she...didn't throw it away, and actually sort of
produced it formally.
I think that's fantastic because the temptation, perhaps not for her,
but for some people, the temptation would had been to
get rid of the will because then she would have inherited something.
So, I think she's a really good person,
she must be a very nice person.
And knowing Winifred's £300,000 estate would have been split
23 ways, Lorraine's relieved it's all going to a good cause.
It was a good feeling and nothing to do with me, because the
money... I may have got a very small part of it,
but actually, I am pleased that it is going to a good charity as well.
So while the heir hunters have spent valuable resources chasing
an estate that didn't have any return for them, in this case
there is a consolation.
The heirs, I think, generally speaking, are
happy, if nothing else, that the deceased's wishes have at least
been fulfilled, so it's good that's the money has gone to
where it was originally meant to go.
If you would like advice about
building your family tree or making a will, go to bbc.co.uk.
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