How do you claim for an unclaimed estate?

What is an unclaimed estate? And what do you need to make a claim for one? Linda Cummins of GWlegal explains who can claim for a Bona Vacantia estate and how to do it.

Unclaimed Estates Gazette

What is an unclaimed estate?

When a person dies, a will usually sets out who has the legal right to apply for a grant of probate (known as the ‘executor’) and deal with the estate (money, property and possessions), distributing it to the named ‘beneficiaries’.

If the person who died did not make a will, they will have died ‘intestate’. In this case, loved ones will need to follow the rules of intestacy, which set out the order in which family should receive assets in the estate.

However, if there are no known kin alive to inherit the intestate estate, or if all the beneficiaries in the will are dead with no surviving person entitled to take in their place then the deceased’s assets pass to the ‘Crown’, with the Treasury Solicitor dealing with the estate. Such an estate is referred to as ‘Bona Vacantia’, otherwise known as an unclaimed estate.

Who deals with Bona Vacantia in England and Wales?

In England and Wales, the Bona Vacantia Division of the Government Legal Department (GLD) deals with unclaimed estates with a value of over £500 (but not with cases within the Duchy of Cornwall or Duchy of Lancaster, Scotland or Northern Ireland).

Often lawyers or other professionals will refer these types of cases to the department, however the cases do have to meet certain criteria before they will be accepted, and they cases won’t be taken where there’s a will or where there are likely to be entitled relatives.

According to the GLD, over 80 per cent of cases referred to them aren’t Bona Vacantia, as there are relatives who can be traced. Therefore, referral to GLD should be a last resort after all avenues to trace relatives have been exhausted.

Who is entitled to claim for an unclaimed estate?

The order of potential beneficiaries to an unclaimed estate in England and Wales is contained in Section 46 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925. The statutory list (in order) is as follows:

  • husband, wife or civil partner
  • children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on (includes adopted children of the deceased or adoptive family if the deceased was adopted)
  • mother or father
  • brothers or sisters who share both the same mother and father, or their children (nieces and nephews)
  • ‘half’ brothers or sisters or their children (nieces and nephews of the half blood or their children)
  • grandparents
  • uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins or their descendants)
  • half uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins of the half blood or their children)

Sometimes persons entitled from the list above have survived the deceased but have died before they could claim. Their own ‘personal representative’ (the person(s) dealing with their estate) can make the claim and then distribute any inheritance to the entitled deceased’s own beneficiaries.

Also, grants can be made from the deceased’s estate to persons who aren’t on the list but believe they are entitled to something from the estate; for example, an unmarried partner, a close care provider or charity that cared for the deceased.

Where can you see a list of unclaimed estates?

You can view a list of unclaimed estates in The Gazette and on GOV.UK. GOV.UK’s list includes cases that have been referred recently but not administered, as well as older cases that have been administered but not claimed. The Gazette’s notices contain information about the deceased, including:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • place of birth
  • marital status
  • date of death
  • place of death

Each unclaimed estates notice in The Gazette will also contain a reference number and claims date, as well as details of the executor/administrator and relevant legal information.

How do you make a claim for an unclaimed estate?

If you believe you are entitled to an unclaimed estate, generally there are two ways of claiming for it:

  1. applying directly to the Bona Vacantia Division - members of the public who believe they are a potential beneficiary can review the list and produce evidence in support their own claim
  2. using a specialist genealogist – genealogists are private companies who are experts in tracing people and persons entitled to inherit. They review the unclaimed estates lists and try to locate beneficiaries, usually taking a percentage of the deceased’s estate as a ‘finder’s fee’ when successful

There are time limits for applying to the Bona Vacantia Division and no claims will be considered 30 years after the deceased’s death. Claims will be accepted if they’re made within 12 years from when the estate administration was completed, and interest will be paid on money held. If the claim is made after that time then money can be paid out on claims up to 30 years after death, but no interest is paid.

What documents and evidence do you need to claim an unclaimed estate?

In any claim, you’ll need to provide evidence, including:

  • your family tree
  • two documents of ID
  • any marriage, birth, and death certificates
  • any other relevant evidence

If other relatives are also entitled to the unclaimed estate, they should be included in the one claim. The claimant has the responsibility to deal with the estate and make sure the other relatives receive what they are due.

If the claim is accepted the Bona Vacantia Division, they will tell the claimant and confirm the value of the estate and the money they hold (if indeed they do hold it). If the value is below £15,000 funds can be released without a grant of representation (so long as no prior grant was issued to the Treasury Solicitor). If any prior grant had been issued, a new grant will be needed whether the value is below or over £15,000. Once the new grant is issued, the prior grant is revoked.

If no money is held by the Bona Vacantia Division, then they will not be administering the estate and have no interest in the estate. All claim papers are given to the personal representative who will then administer. Any original referral papers notifying Bona Vacantia Division of the estate are passed back to the original referrer.

Linda Cummins GWlegal

About the author

Linda Cummins is a Solicitor and Head of Wills & Probate at GWlegal@GWlegal.

See also

Unclaimed estates notices

What are the intestacy rules in England and Wales?

What are the intestacy rules in Scotland?

What to do if a new will is found after an estate has been divided

Do I need to place a deceased estates notice?

What is a grant of representation and do I need it?

Find out more

Administration of Estates Act 1925 (Legislation)

Bona Vacantia Division (GOV.UK)

Ownerless property (

Bona vacantia and the Crown Solicitors Office of Northern Ireland (GOV.UK)

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 8 September 2020

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.