40 estates a week go unclaimed – why you should write a will

Writing a will ensures any wealth you leave behind goes to those you want it to end up with. But there can still be problems if a will cannot be found or a relative feels aggrieved they have been unfairly excluded.

Next month marks the start of Will Aid, backed by Judi Dench, where solicitors waive their fees on behalf of charity.

The wishes of thousands of people who die each year go unfulfilled because the wills they drew up go missing or are not found after death. The assets of people who die without a will and with no known immediate family are advertised publicly at a rate of around 40 estates a week.

The sum total of property, savings and possessions of a deceased person is known as their estate. Those that go unclaimed are listed by the official ‘bona vacantia’ division of the Government Legal Department.

Bona vacantia translates as ‘vacant goods’ and refers to ownerless property. Legal experts estimate that one in five estates listed do have a will to govern them but they have not been found.

Finders International, which features on the popular TV show Heir Hunters, says this issue has become more apparent since 2014 when the Government cut funding for will searches in cases where a deceased person has no immediate family.

It means people who stand to benefit from a will are not receiving windfalls they are entitled to – which could include old friends, carers and charities – and the final wishes of the deceased are not being honoured.

There is an added danger of money ending up with fraudsters. This is already known to have happened with bosses of sham heir hunting companies putting in claims on behalf of potential beneficiaries of unclaimed estates, but then pocketing the proceeds without handing over a penny to the claimants.

Daniel Curran, founder of bona fide Finders International, says: ‘Government withdrawal from funding will searches could inevitably lead to estates passing to the wrong people.’

Curran helped set up the International Association of Professional Probate Researchers, Genealogists and Heir Hunters in a bid to raise standards in an unregulated profession. There is also the larger Heir Hunters Association.

Source material: MailOnSunday