When individuals pass away without leaving behind a will or known heirs, their estate can go unclaimed. Known as bona vacantia, unclaimed property is transferred to the Crown, in most cases in England and Wales. There are approximately 6,000 unclaimed estates on the bona vacantia list, which is a government registry that is updated daily, dating back as far as 1974.

However, there is a procedure in place to help you find out and start the process to receive a payout, if you believe you have a claim to an estate being managed by the division.

Locating Unclaimed Estates

The government regularly updates a comprehensive list of unclaimed estates, enabling individuals to search for deceased relatives or to simply enter their surname to see if you have any connection to names on the list.

Alternatively, private companies known as heir hunters may initiate contact with potentially entitled relatives. These firms operate independently of the Bona Vacantia Division (BVD).

Ian Bond, a partner at Irwin Mitchell Solicitor, explains: “Before an estate can be declared as bona vacantia it has to be advertised on this list. Genealogy firms, or ‘heir hunters’, will then aim to identify and locate potential relatives and make contact with them to sign that person up to instruct them to make a claim to the estate on their behalf.”

“With the assistance of the heir hunter, they instruct a solicitor to take out the grant and identify and collect the assets before establishing a full family tree to find out all the relatives that are entitled. Many of the published estates on the website actually have heir hunters locate someone entitled before they pass to the Crown.

Initiating a Claim: Essential Steps

If you believe you have a legitimate claim to an estate listed by the BVD, you can begin the process by contacting them directly. This can be done via email ([email protected]) or over the phone (020 7210 4700).

Initial correspondence should include a family tree, outlining your relationship with the deceased, including dates of birth, marriage, and deaths for everyone included.

Upon review, the BVD may request additional documentation to substantiate your claim. Following information from the government’s website, this includes:

  • Full birth certificates (showing the parents’ names) and marriage certificates of each person between you and the deceased (including yours and the deceased’s).
  • Identification documents which provide proof of your name and of your name linked to your address
  • A full explanation, supported by evidence, of any discrepancies in the documents supplied with your claim or about any missing documents but you should note that these may affect the acceptance of your claim
  • If you are a third party who represents a claimant you will also need to provide written confirmation that you have been instructed by the claimant to make a claim. This could be in the form of a contract signed by the claimant as long as it contains a clause confirming that the claimant has instructed your firm to make a claim on their behalf, or in a separate letter of authority signed by the claimant to this effect.

You may be asked for further evidence.

To obtain the necessary documents, you can contact the relevant registry offices where life events occurred.

Bona Vacantia Claim Deadlines

Claims for an individual’s estate with the Bona Vacantia Division must be within 30 years of the individual’s death. Claims made within 12 years of the completion of the administration of the estate will include interest payments paid on top. Claims initiated beyond this period will not accrue interest.


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]