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The unclaimed estates list

When an individual passes away, their possessions and assets are collectively referred to as their estate. This includes everything from personal belongings and property to money and digital assets the person owned at the time of their death.

In England and Wales, an estate typically passes to beneficiaries as specified in the deceased’s will. However, if no valid will is present and no living relatives can be located, the estate is placed on the unclaimed estates list (assuming its value is £500 or more).

Here is a brief guide on unclaimed estates in England and Wales, detailing what they are, what happens to them, and who can claim them.

What is an unclaimed estate?

An unclaimed estate occurs when a person dies intestate (without a valid will) and no known family members can claim it. This can also happen if there is a will but all listed beneficiaries are deceased with no surviving relatives. In England and Wales, the Bona Vacantia Division (BVD) of the Government Legal Department manages such estates. For convenience, we will use the abbreviation “BVD.”

What happens to an unclaimed estate?

The BVD places unclaimed estates on an official list, updated daily. If not claimed, an estate remains on the list for 30 years after the individual’s death. The list typically includes limited details such as the deceased’s name, place of birth and death, marital status, and the informant’s details.

During the listing period, anyone can contact the BVD to make a claim, but they must prove their entitlement. Claims require detailed verification and must include a family tree showing the claimant’s relationship to the deceased.

If no valid claim is made within the designated period, the estate is permanently removed from the list and becomes property of the Crown. For estates in Cornwall or Lancaster, the estate goes to the relevant royal Duchy: either the Duchy of Cornwall or the Duchy of Lancaster.

Who is entitled to claim an unclaimed estate?

In the absence of a valid will, the rules of intestacy apply, following a predefined legal hierarchy of blood relatives. The order of entitlement is as follows:

  1. Husband, wife, or civil partner
  2. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on (including adopted children or adoptive family if the deceased was adopted)
  3. Mother or father
  4. Brothers or sisters who share both the same mother and father, or their children (nieces and nephews)
  5. Half-blood brothers or sisters, or their children (nieces and nephews of the half-blood or their children)
  6. Grandparents
  7. Uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins or their descendants)
  8. Half-uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins of the half-blood or their children)

How to claim an unclaimed estate?

If you believe you have a legal right to an unclaimed estate, you or your representative must contact the BVD and complete a detailed claim.

You will need to provide comprehensive proof of your relationship to the deceased, including a detailed family tree with dates of birth, marriage, and death. Supporting evidence, such as certificates and formal identification like driver’s licenses and passports, is also required.

If there are discrepancies in your claim, you must provide evidence to clarify them. The process is complex and there is no guarantee of success.

Contact the team at Complete Estate Protection to find out more about the services we have available.