Charity reports startling increase in Bona Vacantia.


It has recently been estimated by a major charity that two-thirds of Britons have not yet made a will.

Whether it’s a round of golf, the kids activities or domestic duties there is always something going on that at the time seems to be more important than setting down what should happen to our assets in the event of our death and naming our heirs.

We may intend to “do it tomorrow” but far to often tomorrow never comes and this can lead to many problems for our intended heirs. On top of the pain of bereavement family members have the additional burden of sorting out an intestacy, the complications of which can be considerable, time consuming and controversial. Family disputes resulting from the process of determining who is a rightful heir and how the estate should be distributed.

When their are no obvious heirs the problems are multiplied. In these cases, the entire estate of the deceased becomes known as bona vacantia, a phrase meaning “ownerless goods” in Latin. The laws relating to intestacy date back to medieval times and  if no beneficiaries come forward, the bona vacantia will either pass to the Treasury on behalf of the Crown or to the duchies of Cornwall (an estate held by the Prince of Wales) or Lancaster, if the death occurred within their boundaries.

In the 12 months to March 2012 the amount of bona vacantia increased dramatically, the combined value of bona vacantia estates which became the responsibility of the Treasury Solicitor and the duchies, rather than passing to entitled heirs, almost doubled to more than £38.5 million.

During this period In the Duchy of Cornwall alone the value of bona vacantia passed to the Duchy increased dramatically from £75,000 to £552,000, That meant that in the last six years, more than £1 million worth of bona vacantia went into administration by the Duchy. While there was only a small increase in estates being administered by the Duchy of Lancaster, The Treasury saw the value of its bona vacantia income surge from nearly £17 million to £33 million over the 12 month period in question.

The failure to make a will is widespread but generaly isn’t the problem of the wealthy, who are more likely to have inheritence plans in place, but the ordinary man or woman. Many regard their assets as being so comparatively small they do not require a will. This is compounded by people who although they have a will have not kept it up to date or that beneficiaries and executors don’t know where it is or any intended heirs do not survive the person making it.

This is where probate genealogists of “heir hunters” come into their own. They will investigate Bona Vacantia estates and reunit heirs with their otherwise lost inheritence. The duchies and the Treasury Solicitor do set aside sums for beneficiaries making late claims on such estates, and the heir hunters handle the whole process on the behalf of missing heirs. There work has increased the number of individual bona vacantia cases which the treasury deals with. Resulting in more heirs being reunited with their rightful inheritance.

Finders have been awarded the ISO 9001:2008 Total Quality Management certification and are the first probate genealogy firm to achieve the international version of this Standard as devised by the IAB (International Accreditation Board). Finders also provide missing beneficiary insurance, which protects trustees and administrators against the event of an unknown beneficiary emerging after an estate, has been distributed. As agents for Aviva they are regulated by the Financial Services Authority.

For further information and advice contact Finders, 6-8 Vestry Street, London N1 7RE 020 7490 4935

Daniel Curran
Written by Daniel Curran
Daniel is a leading figure in the UK Heir Hunting industry. He is from Isleworth in West London and has lived in London for most of his life. He has been in the probate genealogy profession since 1990. He formed Finders in 1997 after 7 years at another firm.