Genealogist Who Helps Heirs Obtain Fortunes in Estate Cases Accused of Using Forged Documents

Every year, millions of people die worldwide without making a will (called dying intestate), often leaving substantial cash and property estates which, if not claimed, goes to the state. Worth billions, this provides vast income opportunities for genealogists who trace missing beneficiaries to these valuable estates.

Heir tracing is the business of seeking living descendant relatives who often have lost touch with their distant kin and, in most cases, have no idea of their family link. Many professional genealogists also are heir hunters, also known as probate researchers. Heir hunters are the ones who start with the information of a wealthy deceased person and then find the previously-unknown relatives who stand to inherit the estate.

In return, the heir hunter charges a percentage of the inherited wealth, typically 30%, 40%, or more. For some, heir hunting has turned out to be a lucrative business, paying much, much more than traditional genealogy research. Vadim Tevelev is one such heir hunter.

Vadim Tevelev specializes in searching Eastern Europe for the long-lost relatives of people who died without wills in New York City and in other parts of the United States. Presently, he’s working on behalf of a Russian-born New Jersey woman to win her part of an $8 million fortune left behind by Isaac Kramer, a Crown Heights, Brooklyn, lawyer who died in 2008 at the age of 94. But several estate lawyers and genealogy experts have said that the family trees and genealogical records that Tevelev submits as proof of kinship are not always rooted in reality.

You can read the full story in a story by James Fanelli in the (New York) Daily News at:


Lots of “heir searcher” reports are not accurate or complete. Ask any qualified, professional forensic genealogist who has reviewed them for attorneys or the court, or had to clean up after the “heir searcher” reports.

Many “heir searchers” have no education or training in genealogy, or the special aspects of forensic genealogy. Some “heir searchers” often appear to be more concerned with “signing” as many potential heirs as possible and not as concerned with documenting all potential heirs. This would include those who do NOT sign with the heir search firm. In many “heir searcher” reports, the searcher cannot certify in court that all heirs were identified and located.

“Heir searchers” who work on a contingency percentage of the estate have a personal financial stake in the outcome of the case. For some, that can be a powerful incentive for the records presented in the report to support the “heir searcher’s” desired results. This financial stake also leaves the searcher vulnerable in court to impeachment as an unbiased witness. This is why every profession I have researched over the last 12 years clearly advise their members to NOT research and serve as an expert witness on a contingency basis. Some professional organizations take it a step further to include formal ethics standards that prohibit contingency based legal work.

These issues were among the many that lead to the creation of Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG). Producing work product in cases with legal implications is an advanced specialty of professional genealogy. This requires additional education, training, and standards of ethics and conduct. Among those are standards relating to contingency work.

This person’s conduct casts clouds upon all of us who provide services in cases with legal implications. One of CAFG’s main objectives is to make the public and legal community aware that there is a professional organization striving to bring the advanced professional genealogy to the level of other professions who serve them. It’s another step in helping professional genealogy to be accepted as a serious profession.


What Dee Dee said ^ (especially about payment by contingency … not ethical!)


I believe I am Marilyn Monroes daughter born Feb. 12, 1954 and switched identities with Diane Kay jankas who died and her birthday being April 3,1954 and I took her identity and she took mine. Mine being born Feb. 12, 1954 and dying on may 16, 1954 being named after my mother Marilyn. This was done to hide me because of my bio father’s career. I think I was born in Japan. Can u help me figure this out?


Just a comment on the wording in the blog post, “Heir tracing is the business of seeking living descendant relatives” is not totally accurate. Descendant relatives would indicate that the Decedent was an ancestor of the beneficiaries, as in parent, grandparent, great grandparent, etc.; beneficiaries who descended from the Decedent.
My experience has been that these types of probate cases are more likely searching for relatives who did not descend from the Decedent. Some cases do involve unknown descendants, or perhaps known, but missing kids, grandkids, etc. However, the majority of these cases, in my experience, involve identifying and locating relatives who did not descend from the Decedent.


I worked on a Shelby County Probate case representing the Maternal lines. An out of state “heir searc” firm was hired by Paternal side with local attorney hired to represent them in court. Not only was I asked by courts to do my job, but to review the “heir search” side for accuracy. Many obvious family members were omitted; they either didn’t know TN probate law or refused to abide. After case I was called by “heir search” firm for possible employment, but decided that was not path I wanted to take. I learned of CAFG’s formation and joined their group. Tina Sansone


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