Although the cases clearly define the law and public policy applicable to the genealogist's contract, the important variable is the individual factual situation and its implications. The courts have upheld the heir-hunter's contract when the following factors were predominant in the suit: where the services of the genealogist amounted to valuable consideration; where the parties were competent and on equal footing; where there was no implied or express agreement to participate in existing or contemplated litigation; where the beneficiary accepted the evidence which established his claim and received the benefit of the claim; where there was no duty on the party producing the evidence to so act.
Only when none of the illegal elements has been adequately impressed upon the court will the contract be held valid. The conclusion is obvious, however, that the professional heir-hunters seek only to operate within the bare periphery of legality. With few exceptions,heir-hunting, though possibly a legitimate profession when properly pursued, will be hounded by the bar and frowned upon by the bench.
Frank C. Ingraham,
Heir Hunting -- A Profession or a Racket?,
7 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol7/iss1/6