What is an Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship?
The researcher begins by explaining to the court who they are and swearing that they are not related to the decedent, they are not an heir of the decedent and that the researcher has no financial interest in the outcome of the case. Next the researcher discloses the name and address of the client and for what legal jurisdiction the affidavit is intended for use in.
The kinship research results section of the affidavit is a series of statements of facts in which each fact references an exhibit number. For example, “John J. Johnson died 1 May 1952 in Tampa, Hillsborough County, Florida. See exhibit 23.” Exhibits are shown at the end of the report. For example, exhibit 23 would be a digital image embedded in the report of the certified death certificate of John J. Johnson. The original paper version of the certified certificate would also accompany the affidavit.
Can you tell me for sure who the rightful heirs are?
No, only potential heirs. At FMO Research, we research to document “potential heirs” because only a judge has the legal authority to declare a person a rightful heir, regardless if the decedent had a will or not. If a person died without a will, or if the will has been determined by the court to be invalid, each jurisdiction, such as a state, has its own set of “intestate succession laws” which judges use to determine who has standing as a rightful heir and who does not.
Interested parties submit affidavits to courts to supply the court with unbiased and independently researched information to aid the judge in making determinations.
Affidavits can also be submitted to the court to aid the judge in granting or denying petitions such as the disputing of a will, who might be the best person to be appointed as the personal representative, and petitions for the unsealing of necessary records such as sealed adoption records and sealed birth certificates.
Do you testify in court?
Yes. An Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship is a written report of research findings that is notarized as the sworn testimony of the researcher and is submitted to the court as evidence. Each statement of fact presented in the report is accompanied by an exhibit of a document supporting the statement. It is rare, but a judge does have the right to issue an order that the forensic genealogist appear in court in person to validate that they indeed did the research themselves and to allow for cross examination. In such cases, you as the client would bear the expenses.
What is a Narrative Report of Kinship?
A Narrative Report of Kinship is similar to an Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship; however, it is not notarized and is not considered sworn testimony. This type of report is useful for people such as real estate investors who want to know if a property owner is deceased, and if so, who the potential heirs are and how they might be contacted.
Later, if legal proceedings become necessary, information within the Narrative Report of Kinship is included in the Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship.
Will you keep my information confidential and private?
Absolutely! All client information and research results are kept strictly confidential and handled with the upmost of care. Once an Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship has been submitted to the court, the affidavit itself becomes an official public record. All research results are shared by us with the client only. As the client, it is your decision when to submit the affidavit to the court. FMO Research does comply with all official court orders including those requesting discovery documents.
How long does the research take?
Normally 3 to 8 weeks for an Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship, depending on the need for official records, such as certified birth certificates, which may need to be ordered through the mail.
Normally 2 weeks for an initial draft of a Narrative Report of Kinship.
Do I need to help with the research?
Yes. First, don’t be shy. Tell us everything you know and everything you might expect, even if you find it a little embarrassing. Most everyone is a little embarrassed by something; however, remember that everything you tell us is kept strictly confidential and handled with the upmost of care.
Second, help us keep your expenses down by sharing the official documents that you already have with us. There is no need for us to re-purchase documents that you already have.
Third, you may need to sign document order requests for us. For example, recent vital records (certified birth, marriage and death certificates) are closed to the public in the State of New York. When ordering such records from the State of New York, we will need a close family member or the personal representative of the estate to sign our document requests.
Will I receive initial drafts of affidavits and other reports? Can make changes to the drafts?
Yes ... and no. As our client, you will receive a draft of your Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship that is not yet signed or notarized by the researcher for your/your attorney’s review. As the affidavit must remain the independent and unbiased personal testimony of the researcher, no research findings will be removed from the affidavit. However, if you, or your attorney, feels that the court will require more information, we will be happy to continue research and expand the report.
When producing a Narrative Report of Kinship, we sometimes suspend research along the way, and send you a draft you can use to determine whether you would like for us to continue or not. For example, if you are a real estate investor and we find that the owner, of an abandoned property worth only $50,000, is deceased and potentially has 8 heirs, plus securing clean title would possibly involve not only a probate for the property owner, but the re-opening of 3 other probates, you may decide you want us to halt research. We cannot give you legal advice in any form, it is up to you/your attorney to decide if you would like research to continue.
Can you help me with legal advice?
No. Not at all. As professional genealogists and not licensed attorneys, we cannot give you legal advice in any form.
How am I charged?
As our client, you are charged an hourly fee and asked to reimburse us for the actual costs of expenses such as the purchase of documents, travel costs and repository fees. We will let you know in advance if we need to spend more than $100 in expenses.
We ask for a small deposit when beginning the research, then the balance is due for affidavits when you receive the draft for review. For Narrative Reports of Kinship, the balance is due upon delivery. Repeat clients are normally not asked for new deposits.
When beginning a project, we cannot guarantee the project will require a certain number of research hours because we don’t know how many potential heirs we might discover over the course of research. If you tell us not to exceed a certain number of hours, we will be sure not to do so; however, if we stop research on an affidavit before it can be considered by the researcher as “diligent and complete,” that fact must be disclosed in the notarized affidavit. The average affidavit requires approximately 20-25 hours of research time.
The minimum number of pre-authorized hours for any research project must be at least 10. However, you will only be charged for the actual time and actual expenses used, regardless if the total hours used is less than 10.
Are contingency payment options available?
No. In the past, some forensic genealogists have been paid based on receiving a percentage of the estate or subject property if and when it is successfully settled or sold. This practice has been deemed unethical by many courts which have thrown out affidavits from such researchers as biased and therefore worthless. The researcher must be able to provide sworn testimony that they are not related to the decedent, they are not an heir of the decedent and that they have no financial interest in the outcome of the case.
Do you only research in the United States?
No. We at FMO Research leverage repositories, genealogists and agents nearly the world over to secure necessary information and documents. We also routinely prepare affidavits for use in foreign courts.
Please call us at 845-399-7058 to schedule a consultation.