This Man Facilitates Surprise Inheritances from Long-forgotten Relatives

This never happens to me but obviously it has happened to others. The stories all seem to be similar to the often-repeated stories of surprise inheritances from long-lost uncles. The true stories may not always involve uncles but surprises do happen.

James Chalmers is an “heir finder,” a genealogist who finds heirs who have unexpectedly inherited money or property. Chalmers has been employed for 12 years at State Trustees in the state of Victoria, Australia. The firm works with clients to create wills, documents providing the power of attorney, and related services.

Mr. Chalmers is something of a gene detective, scouring all manner of public and private records to deliver sums of money and inherited items to mostly unwitting next of kin. His extraordinary job sometimes makes millionaires (his record inheritance is about $3 million) and sometimes reunites families. Almost always, he uncovers secrets.

It must be one great job that provides lots of satisfaction to Mr. Chalmers as well as to the people he notifies. You can read all about James Chalmers and his interesting employment in an article by Zach Hope in The Age web site at:

My thanks to newsletter reader Andrew Kohut for telling me about this interesting story.


LOL, forensic genealogists in the US do this type of work everyday.


    Forensic ? Usually associated with killers and John/Jane Does. Isn’t there different name than this to describe finding heirs?


    The term “forensic” applies to scientific investigation of evidence that can be used in court proceedings of various kinds, including cases involving decedents’ estates, guardianships and trusts, as well as missing persons and violent crimes. In the famous Madoff Ponzi scheme case, a team of forensic accountants was brought in to unravel the fraudulent bookkeeping and account records and “follow the money,” in order to recover stolen assets and oversee equitable distribution of the assets they were able to recover among the victims of the scheme.


This last winter I had the pleasure of meeting a 96 year old woman who did this back in the 1940s to the 1990s. Very interesting stories!


UK TV a couple of years back had a whole slew of series about “heir hunters” – we call them probate researchers. One of the prominent companies is . Quite a few companies came under a deal of fire for the fees that they charge – sometimes upto a half of the value of the inheritance.


In the US, if a person checks the comptrollers office of states he or she has lived in, there may or may not be a list of monies/stock dividends/utility deposits/ etc that are owed to them. Note it may be called a different name. There is usually a form to fill out, with proof you are the named individual. It usually does not cost money, to obtain what is owed you.


Paula Cox is on the right track. In all states, the Treasurer of that state holds UNCLAIMED monies, paychecks, dividends, checking and savings accounts, etc. that have been turned in from companies, banks, etc. when accounts have not been used for over a year. The holders may have moved, forgot they had accounts, may have died. A list is usually published in newspapers twice a year and there is a database online with the names of people who have property in the State Treasurer’s office. Go online and look for your name and the names of relatives, dead or alive and notify someone who can make a claim. Good luck.


It is a lucrative business in the states. An heir finder knocked on my dad’s door with a real long lost cousin who had died. The cousin had no will and no descendants and no siblings. The descendants of her parents siblings split the inheritance. 15 in all. The heir finder got 30%. The state of California would have gotten to keep the money if no heirs were found.


Thank you Nancy J. And another comment in regard To Greenhill39 post. True, there are heir finders who make money. (I received letter once that said there was something & pay person for finding it.) Knowing abt each states comptroller/treasurer I looked in a few specific states & found parents name. So received all. Look for all related persons as Nancy J recommends. Also friends/neighbors etc. “A different type of genealogy”


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