How to claim for an unclaimed estate

25 Mar 2019 | Jan Atkinson

Table of Contents

Finding beneficiaries for unclaimed assets

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 under the rules of intestacy.

To find beneficiaries for unclaimed assets, you can follow these steps:

  1. Start by checking public records such as death certificates, wills, and probate records to identify potential beneficiaries. You can search these records on government websites.
  2. Contact financial institutions, such as banks, insurance companies, and investment firms, to inquire about any unclaimed assets they may be holding for the deceased. They may be able to provide information on named beneficiaries or heirs.
  3. You can place an advertisement in newspapers and online to seek out potential beneficiaries. This can be particularly helpful if the deceased had no immediate family or if their whereabouts are unknown.
  4. There are several government resources available that can help you find potential beneficiaries, such as the Bona Vacantia list in the UK

What is Bona Vacantia?

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 Bona Vacantia list is a public record of unclaimed estates in the UK that have no known living heirs. You can search the list on the government’s website.

According to www.uar.co.uk, a database which allows users to search the unclaimed assets register, there are:

  • £ 15 billion in unclaimed assets;
  • £1billion in unclaimed NS&I products;
  • £400million in unclaimed bank and building society accounts;
  • £ 400 million 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 £ 10 billion per year.

Heir hunters scour the lists and advertisements published by the Treasury Solicitor and 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.

How to find out the value of an unclaimed estate

To find out the value of an unclaimed estate,  follow these steps:

  1. Check if the estate has been published on the Bona Vacantia list.
  2. If the estate is on the Bona Vacantia list, you can contact the Treasury Solicitor’s Office, which is responsible for dealing with unclaimed estates. They can provide you with information about the estate, including its estimated value.
  3. If you know the name of the deceased, you can search for their probate records, which will include details of their assets and the value of their estate. You can search for probate records on the government’s website.

The value of an unclaimed estate can vary widely, depending on the assets and liabilities of the deceased. It’s also important to be aware that claiming an unclaimed estate can be a complex and time-consuming process, and it’s advisable to seek professional advice if you’re considering making a claim.

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