Alan Noot lived life challenging the phrase “no known heirs.”
As a forensic genealogist for nearly 40 years who scoured cemeteries, census film and vital records, he found heirs inheritances of more than $100 million that was legally theirs, according to his wife, Candace Noot, of Medina.
“The court loved my husband because he made sure all the rightful heirs were accounted for,” she said.
Noot died Sept. 15 of multiple myeloma at age 68.
Noot made his living by charging a fee to the heirs, who wouldn’t have gotten the money without him, but didn’t get paid until the clients got paid. His payment for time and research expenses came out of the contingency fee he had negotiated with the heirs.
Most clients were extremely grateful. Evelyn Enersen of Milltown, Wis., collected more than $150,000 from a half-brother whom she could never find. The half-brother, a Minneapolis maintenance worker who lived a simple life, left two bank accounts with no will.
So the money was held by escheat in the state of Minnesota until Noot took the case. Enersen, who has since died, said in a 1990 Star Tribune article about Noot, “Who isn’t glad to get it? To all of us it seemed like a miracle.”
Noot never asked for money upfront, but some were suspicious. “I think many clients were skeptical at first,” said Alan Lanners, an attorney who worked in the same building as Noot in Plymouth. “There were times when he’d put in a lot of work and not get paid because the client didn’t want to pursue it.”
Many of his clients were colorful characters — prostitutes, welfare cheats and a millionaire who put cardboard in his shoes to make them last longer. “He was dealing with the black sheep of society,” said his wife.
It took a lot of cajoling from Noot to convince a woman who lived on the street to put her $50,000 inheritance in a Twin Cities bank. “She didn’t want her lifestyle disturbed,” Candace said. “I’ll bet that money’s still in the bank.”
Sometimes Noot would expose secrets that family members would just as soon leave buried. “There’s people out there who are 60 years old and have never been told they’re adopted,” Alan Noot said in a 1990 interview.
He was known to go to extreme lengths to satisfy the court and in effect, get paid. “He actually had contacts in Europe, and remember these were the pre-internet days when it was even harder to get records,” said Richard Wolfson, a retired court hearing officer who often had Noot in front of him with big sheets of paper detailing a family tree. “He was like a detective. If he couldn’t find a birth certificate, he’d check church records and newspaper articles.”
Because of the number of Minnesotans who emigrated from Europe, Noot had sources in Scandinavia and Germany. In one particularly complicated case, Candace Noot said, an immigrant women died leaving her estate to her children. Noot discovered that she had two husbands, brothers born nine months apart, who each had the same name due to a clerical error at Ellis Island. But the kids from the second marriage were left out. It was common at the time for a widowed woman to marry her husband’s brother, if he was unmarried, Candace said.
Friends and business associates described Noot as a fiercely intelligent person who succeeded with persistency and consistency. “He was easygoing until he got a case,” she said. “If someone said ‘no’ to him or ‘it can’t be done,’ it was like throwing down the gauntlet.”
In addition to his wife, Noot is survived by brother Richard Noot of Cambridge, Minn., and two children. Services have been held.