News article published on: 25th March 2019
Bona Vacantia is Latin for ‘ownerless goods’. Under a combination of common law and statute dating back to the Middle Ages, the estates of people who die without a Will or heirs pass to the Crown or to the Government.
The amount of unclaimed assets has nearly doubled in the last year, with the Prince of Wales, via the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, receiving in excess of £3million and the Treasury receiving in excess of £33million of unclaimed estates.
According to www.uar.co.uk, a database which allows users to search the unclaimed assets register, there are:
£15billion in unclaimed assets;
£1billion in unclaimed NS&I products;
£400million in unclaimed bank and building society accounts;
£400million in unclaimed pension and life policies.
The Treasury Solicitor’s Department of the UK Government investigates unclaimed estates and receives approximately 2000 new cases each year. Each week advertisements about such estates are placed in the national and local press and on their website www.bonavacantia.gov.uk. If no heirs are found the Treasury collects in the estate assets, which amounts to approximately £10billion per year.
Heir hunters scour the lists and advertisements published by the Treasury Solicitor then try to track down heirs to the unclaimed estates. The BBC1 daytime program ‘Heir Hunters’ features genealogists researching unclaimed estates and tracing potential heirs, but they have been severely criticised for deducting costs and commissions of up to 40% of the value of the inheritance for each beneficiary, and for failing to provide beneficiaries with information about the deceased and the estate to enable beneficiaries to make their own enquiries.