When a person dies without a will in England or Wales – and there are no known blood relatives – the assets pass to the Crown as ‘ownerless property’.
This ‘bona vacantia’ as it’s quaintly called in Latin (meaning unclaimed goods) could be any possession from a mediaeval castle to a mattress stuffed with bank notes to a single silver teaspoon.
However, if a previously unknown relative turns up – and they can prove the bloodline or relationship – they could be entitled to a share. We decided to dedicate an article to this probate version of a lotto ticket.
How to Go About Claiming Against an Unclaimed Estate
Let’s say, just for example you were rummaging through your late mum’s papers, and learned for the first time she had an estranged brother who was a bachelor all his life.
1… You find a letter from said Uncle Harry in her papers telling her he was going to leave his amassed fortune to a cats’ home because his family did not understand him. You decide to have a punt at this.
2… You locate a service that traces genealogy records. It costs close to a hundred pounds to prove your mum had a brother Harry and there is no record of marriage / children. Another 35 pounds buys you a copy of his death certificate. You have confirmed there is no will listed in the probate documents for England and Wales.
3… If you wanted to take this further then your next port of call would be the Government Legal Department. This is responsible for bona vacantia in England and Wales (except in the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster where Farrer and Company take care of these).
4… Your next step would be to visit the list of unclaimed estates at this link. Note though that you will only find qualifying estates there that have not yet been closed out. And that they automatically close out 30 years after the date of death.
5… If you find Uncle Harry on the list, then we recommend you lodge a claim with the Government Legal Department / Farrer and Company ASAP because your time clock may be ticking faster than you think. They will want to see your family tree and other supporting evidence you have.
6… If you can’t find Uncle Harry listed, then your last hope could be to refer his estate to the Treasury Solicitor who may or may not be able to assist you. It’s a very long shot but you have come so far you may as well complete the process.
That’s about all you need to know about a topic few people are aware exists. It’s something you may like to play with on a winter’s evening instead of watching television. You could have several relatives you lost touch with, and the government may be sitting on a pile of their money.
If you are not a relative, but can prove you were a deceased person’s partner, or lived with them and / or provided free support you may also have a claim against their bona vacantia provided the thirty years have not elapsed. The government is not entitled to the money when someone else is.