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WHERE THERE IS NO WILL, THERE'S AWAY; Sleuth on trail of family fortunes.

Byline: ALISON SANDERS alison.sanders@WalesOnline.co.uk

SUPER-SLEUTH Peter Birchwood has travelled across the world in his bid to unite thousands of lost heirs with their fortunes.

Making it his mission to track down the families of the dead when no will is made, his research has included getting several million dollars to a person with close ties to the British Royal Family and trying to track down the family of an El Salvadorian petrol pump worker who died in mysterious circumstances and somehow left an estate worth $900,000.

Peter's work, which is all done from the Montgomery head office of his company Celtic Research, has seen him solve up to 20,000 cases during his 40-year career - passing on PS30m to rightful heirs.

This works out as an average of 300 or 400 cases a year and Peter, 66, is helped by his son Hector, 39, and wife, Maria, as well as staff in Newport, Liverpool, Essex, London and contacts abroad.

The family's success has earned them a regular spot in all seven series of the BBC show Heir Hunters.

The show, which is now shown on BBC2, follows the work of several companies who make their living trying to track down missing or unknown heirs before the Treasury department lawfully rakes in the money.

Peter said: "It's fun and we enjoy ourselves."

He declined to comment on how the firm makes its money but the Heir Hunters association website says firms can take up to 30% commission on their discoveries.

And he added that the programme has encouraged many viewers to want to try their hand at the heir hunting game.

"Every series seems to give people the idea that they can do as well as we can but it's not true.

"They trip over themselves and everything comes to a crashing halt.

"People will look at it and think what a great business to be in, do some research on the computer, find the people, get the money and you've made a fortune. But I've been doing it for 40 years now and it's not as easy as that."

Peter said the show's viewers can sometimes provide helpful clues. "Half way through the programme they list two or three cases that are on the unsolved list.

"One man who was watching had noticed the name of his cousin. He called me and we found all of the family and proved the man's cousin was the rightful heir just before Christmas. He and the family have now received PS12,000 from the estate. That's happened on several occasions," he said.

Peter, a former librarian, has worked on a variety of cases - the most valuable of which stands at 20 million euros and is currently going through the courts in Italy.

Peter's work has taken him to the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Europe.

He will be heading out to Central America next month to uncover the heir of a $500m fortune.

Peter said: "We've done a fair amount of work on the phone and have got some good clues. The heir we've found with the help of one of our contacts over there is in a tiny town and we'll be seeing him next month."

The firm relies on its contacts abroad and it was a European contact that helped Peter solve the PS3m case of a Cambridge University professor whose relatives were tracked down in Holland and Belgium.

Hector said: "It's about building up a relationship with people in other parts of the world who can help you out.

"Cases that take an awful lot of time are usually ones with common names like Evans or WILLIAMS," he said. "It sometimes takes six to eight months just for general research. We do have a case we've been working on, on and off, for 12 years.

"The onlywayI can see of solving it is if the 1921 census is released. But it now seems that it won't be released until 2022 so we'll just have to keep the files on hold."

Heir Hunters is on BBC2 at 7pm Monday to Friday.

MYSTERY OF MEXICAN CRASH CELTIC Research is investigating a case worth around $900,000 which will take them to Central America next month.

Peter said the deceased man had worked at a petrol station in California after his parents moved there from El Salvador.

Peter said: "The deceased died in his car in a traffic accident on the Mexican side of the border.

"Newspapers in Mexico commented that the circumstances were suspicious. Although he was in a fairly humble job and did not own his house, his estate was valued at about $900,000.

"The heirs would be his parents but the problem has been finding his father had gone back to El Salvador.

"He would be heir to half the estate but probably doesn't know anything about it.

"We have some clues as to where the father may be and my wife Maria is dealing with the research and we hope to find him when we get there next month."

ROYAL HEIRS AND GRACES HEIR hunting has even involved mixing with royalty.

Peter said: "A lady died in California. Some months before she died she had carefully gone over her financial situation and made a holographic will [one entirely handwritten and signed by the testator] leaving her real estate to her stepchildren.

"However, shortly before her death, her three sisters died, one after the other, each estate tipping over into the next. sister's estate until the estate of the Californian lady benefited to the extent of several million dollars.

"She and her sisters had been born in Canada and their father was the youngest son of a titled English family.

"The research for this case took only a few weeks before we found her cousins in England.

"One cousin was married to a count, another to a German baron and another married into a family with close personal links to the British Royal Family."

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Heirs and traces: Peter Birchwood
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 20, 2013
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