Bona vacantia in Cornwall

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What happens if you die in Cornwall without a Will or traceable relatives? In theory, your money ends up in the pockets of the Duke of Cornwall, aka HRH Prince Charles.

The website vice-com drew attention to what many people do not know – an old law that dates back to the 14th century, when the rights to those bona vacantia estates were awarded to the oldest son of the monarch as part of the Duchy of Cornwall.

The article points out that in the past 11 years, the Duchy of Cornwall has received £3.4 million. According to a spokeswoman for Prince Charles, he chooses to donate all the monies to the Duchy of Cornwall Benevolent Fund. The fund dispenses donations to local communities in the south west of England.

‘Surplus receipts’

The Benevolent Fund only receives the ‘surplus receipts’ from the bona vacantia cases as most of the money from estates will be swallowed up by administration costs and creditors hanging onto it in case relatives of the deceased are found.

Bona vacantia cases in Cornwall are dealt with by the solicitor firm Farrer & Co on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall. By law the Duchy must allow 12 years for a relative to make a claim, as is the case with the Treasury that deals with bona vacantia cases in the rest of England and Wales (apart from the Duchy of Lancaster area) although discretionary payments can be made within 30 years of a person’s death.

Lucinda van Kuffeler, an associate of Farrer & Co, said the firm made the appropriate enquiries about existence of relatives when someone dies without a will or close relatives, and that they instructed firms of genealogists to act on their firm, and advertised the estate in newspapers.

No FOI requests

Finders International’s CEO and founder Danny Curran was quoted in the article. As Farrer & Co is a private firm, it is not subject to freedom of information requests, and thus it is not clear how many estates in Cornwall are administered this way.

Danny told Vice that in his 25 years of working as a probate genealogist, Finders International has only worked with a “very small number of Duchy of Cornwall cases”, and that they did not seem to advertise bona vacantia estates online.

The charity Quaker Social Action has pointed out that the Benevolent Fund could be ringfenced and used to support families struggling with funeral costs. There is no law in place that means the Duke of Cornwall or his successor must give the money to charity.

Finders International trace missing beneficiaries to estates, properties and assets.  To see a full list of our services, please visit our website.  Alternatively, you can contact us via telephone +44(0) 20 7490 4935 or email [email protected]