When people die without a spouse or blood relatives and without leaving a Will, the starting point is that their Estate passes to the Crown.
This is known as an estate passing “bona vacantia”, meaning “ownerless property”.
Estates pass to the Crown if someone dies without leaving:
- A husband, wife or civil partner.
- Children, grandchildren, greatgrandchildren and so on.
- A mother or father.
- Brothers or sisters who share both the same mother and father, or their children (nieces and nephews).
- Half brothers or sisters of their children (nieces and nephews of the half blood or their children). “Half” means they share only one parent of the deceased.
- Uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins or their dependents).
- Half uncles and aunts or their children (first cousins of the half blood or their children). “Half” means the only share one grandparent with the deceased, not both.
If any of the above survive the person who dies, under the rules relating to intestacy, the Estate is inherited by them in the order of priority shown above (sometimes by more than one category, depending on the size of the estate).
The Bona Vacantia Division of the Government Legal Department deals with estates passing to the Crown, and publishes a list of all Estates which have yet to be claimed, with the list updated daily.
If you believe you are entitled to claim such an Estate, you would need to submit a family tree to the Bona Vacantia Division, and then documentary evidence, to prove your entitlement.
Any claim to an Estate being administered by the Bona Vacantia Division must be made within 30 years of the date of death.
However, even if you are not a blood relative, it may still be possible to bring a claim against an Estate which on the face of it passes to the Crown.
Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, you may be able to bring a claim against an Estate if you are:
- A person who was living with the deceased in a relation akin to that of husband and wife, even if unmarried
- An ex-spouse
- Someone that the person who died treated as a child of the family, for example a stepchild
- A person whom the person who died was financially maintaining as at the date of their death.
This Act means that, even if you are not related to the person who died, it may still be possible to prevent the assets from passing to the Crown, if you have a right to reasonable financial provision from the estate, as defined by the Act.
Any claim under the Inheritance Act usually has to be brought within 6 months of the date of the Grant of Letters of Administration ( being the formal document which usually has to be obtained before the deceased person’s assets and liabilities can be dealt with.
If you have an enquiry in relation to your potential claim against an Estate, please contact Jane MacLeod.