These apparently Bona Vacantia estates often do have next of kin who could legally inherit, but who may have lost contact with the Deceased.
The assumption is always that these are intestate estates, with no living relatives and therefore the Treasury Solicitor, acting on behalf of the Crown will ask for these estates to be referred to them for administration. If no next of kin come forward the estate will pass to the Crown via the Treasury Solicitor’s office. However, if the Deceased died in Lancashire the estate is referred to the Duchy of Lancaster as Bona Vacantia. Another quirk is that, for people dying in Cornwall with no known next of kin, the Duchy of Cornwall steps in, in place of the Treasury Solicitor, but again Heir Hunters will research these cases from time to time. Although these cases have yet to be featured on the BBC Heir Hunters TV show, they may well do in the future, along with cases referred to UK Heir Hunters from their counterparts in other parts of the world.
I have been a probate genealogist for 20 years now and the subject of Heir Hunters and other TV genealogy based shows appears to have opened up a rich vein of discussion amongst families and individuals wondering if they have any relatives somewhere that may have died intestate and left their unclaimed estate in the hands of the Treasury Solicitor. From my point of view, although may such Bona Vacantia cases have arisen over the years, the probate genealogy industry has also been highly active and become more and more competitive. With new firms seeking business it seems that there’s not much left that hasn’t been investigated and, bearing in mind the Treasury Solicitor only recently took the decision not to publish estate values, you can be assured that any estate of value was research by a probate genealogy firm in the golden days of Heir Hunters, commonly thought of as being many years ago!
So, if you have been inspired by Heir Hunters, why not take a look at your family history, but I would say this should be done without a view to capturing a forgotten inheritance, but out of historical interest.
Life as an Heir Hunter can be interesting, but it is important to set standards and Finders have their own Professional Conduct Code. We are also members of the Association of Professional Genealogists and agree to abide by their Code of Ethics. Furthermore, we are agents for Aviva as, once all heir Hunting has been completed, it is important that the inheriting heirs are protected from claims in the future. Without proper professional probate genealogy completed by Finders, we are unable to obtain such policies. Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance, as it is called, is often a vital part of the finalising process prior to Estate Distribution. Each beneficiary will be protected once such a policy is in place. Something that beneficiaries will find provides peace of mind in the event of an illegitimate beneficiary or previously unknown heir coming forward at a later date and claiming a share.
In summary, and from what I can gather from the Internet and our clients, along with beneficiaries that we contact every day of the week, BBC Heir Hunters has proved to be interesting viewing and has reassured the public that a phone call or letter from Finders will be about a genuine inheritance matter.
Heir Hunters has provided a view of an industry that many never knew existed and has made some people wonder about their own family history and the possibility of a Bona Vacantia Estate lurking somewhere in their family tree, awaiting the attentions of an Heir Hunter, perhaps. Of course it does happen to the few, but most of us will have to stick to the day job in the absence of a genealogical windfall or our lucky numbers coming up on the lottery!