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Claiming or Referring an Unclaimed Estate

Ownerless property passes to the Crown if someone dies with no known family or without leaving a Will. Find out who handles 'bona vacantia' and how to claim or refer an unclaimed estate.

BONA VACANTIA: The term means ‘vacant goods’. It refers to different types of properties that pass over to the Crown according to the law.

In most cases, it will be money. But, it can also be buildings or even the personal possessions of a deceased person.

As a relative of someone who died, you may have some entitlement to a share of their estate (money and property).

First of all, you must check if the Crown has listed the estate. The next step is to make sure you qualify as an entitled relative. Following that, you can make a claim on the deceased person’s estate.

Note: You can also refer an unclaimed estate to the Crown if you discover they have not listed it (see below).

Applying for a Grant (if not a relative)

You may be able to apply for a grant from the estate even if you are not related to the deceased person. In most cases, it applies to people who live together or to someone who takes care of a sick person before they die.

Replying to an Advert

The Government Legal Department publish adverts to try and find any entitled relatives. You would need to prove a relationship with the deceased person if you reply to an advert. As a rule, that means you need to have a birth, a marriage, or a death certificate.

Contact Information

The Treasury Solicitor acts for the Crown as part of the Government Legal Department. With the exception of the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, the department handles bona vacantia in England and Wales.

They administer the estates of people who die without known kin (entitled blood relatives) and intestate (without a Will). They also collect the assets of dissolved companies and other various ownerless goods.

Note: The Government Legal Department publishes an updated list of unclaimed estates held by the Treasury Solicitor.

Other Bodies Representing the Crown

There are several other bodies that represent the Crown when dealing with bona vacantia, such as:

  • Farrer and Co: In the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster
  • The Crown Solicitor’s Office: For Northern Ireland
  • The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer: In Scotland

Qualifying as an Entitled Relative

You should find out whether you are ‘entitled’ before you make a claim on someone’s estate. As a general rule of thumb:

  • When there is no will: The first claim on the estate would go to the deceased person’s husband, wife, or civil partner and then to any children.
  • If there is no spouse or child: Entitlement to a share in the estate would pass to anyone who descended from a grandparent of the deceased person.
  • Having a relationship through a marriage means you would have no ‘automatic’ entitlement.

Note: You can check intestacy online. It is a way of determining who has entitlement to a share of someone’s estate if they die intestate (without making a Will).

Rules for Adoptees

As an adopted person you would have:

  • The same rights as if you were born into your adoptive family.
  • No rights to an estate of your original birth family.

Note: It would be the adoptive family who have the rights to the estate if the deceased was an adopted person.

Making a Claim on an Estate

Follow these three steps if you believe you have an entitled claim on an estate in England and Wales (excluding Cornwall or Lancashire):

  1. Find the unclaimed estate held by the Treasury Solicitor.
  2. Check that you can claim as an ‘entitled relative’.
  3. Make a claim to the deceased person’s estate.

Note: The process differs in the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, and in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Instead, contact the relevant body that represents the Crown (see above).

Required Evidence

You will need to send in a family tree that shows your relationship to the deceased. You also need to provide two separate pieces of identification.

One should show your full name and the other should show your name and address (dated in the last three (3) months). They may also require your birth, death, or marriage certificate.

How to Refer an Unclaimed Estate

You can refer an estate to one of the bodies that represents the Crown. The referral should be a situation whereby someone died and:

  • The did not leave a Will (died intestate).
  • There are no known blood relatives.
  • The estate is ‘solvent’ meaning the person left more funds than debt.

You can use a form to notify the Bona Vacantia division that a person died without leaving a Will or any known blood relatives. It applies to England and Wales (with the exceptions of the Duchies of Cornwall or Lancaster).

Note: The estate would need to be worth at least £500 for the Government Legal Department to handle it.

Applying for a Grant from an Estate

In some cases, you can apply for a grant from the estate of a deceased person. It might apply if you could have expected to benefit from it. Typical examples include situations where:

  • You provided care or free services for the person (e.g. cleaning, cooking, shopping, or home repairs). It applies most in cases where they might have had to pay someone else instead.
  • You lived with the person (but not in a marriage). The relationship could have been as their friend or as their partner.
  • You are representing a charity (or other body) that provided care for the person with a considerable expense for doing so.

Note: You can apply for grants from a deceased person’s estate without being related to them.

Apply to the Government Legal Department

You will need to contact the Government Legal Department and give them as much supporting information as you can. Inform them that your claim is for a ‘discretionary grant’.

Government Legal Department
Bona Vacantia Division (BVD)
PO Box 70165
London WC1A 9HG
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 0207 210 4700
Fax: 0207 210 3104
Landline and mobile calls comparison.

The process differs in the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster, and in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Instead, contact the relevant body that represents the Crown (see above).

How to Claim or Refer an Unclaimed Estate in the United Kingdom