“Bona Vacantia”, broadly means “ownerless goods”, or in the context of an intestate estate, “no heirs.” Such estates arise because despite every effort by solicitors and the Law Society in the UK to convince people to make a will, the majority of citizens end up never getting around to this simple task. When you die without a will you die “intestate”.
In small families that get on well this is not a problem as the next of kin are known and can work together to organise death registration, the funeral and collection and disposal of assets to the correct family members.
However, for people who die with no obvious family dealing with these estates can open up, at best, a whole new world which few are aware of, and, at worst, a can of worms which is difficult and costly to deal with.
Currently over 14,000 estates are being looked after by HM Government Legal Department. This department is known as “Bona Vacantia” or BV. BV have estates referred to them by many different sources including nursing homes, lawyers, coroners and the bereavement offices of local town and city councils or hospitals.
Where there is no family, funerals and cremations are organised by the local bereavement service, which usually pay for a very basic burial or cremation.
In truth there may be entitled heirs for each BV estate but these heirs could be anywhere in the world, or, more commonly, just down the road. In all cases the value of a BV estate is not known until claimed, but we are aware that over 3,000 estates are known to be worth over £15,000 and a few are even worth many millions.
You will all no doubt be aware of “Heir Hunting”, popularised by the BBC TV series “Heir Hunters”, whereby heirs to intestate estates held by BV are tracked down on contingency commission based contracts. However this industry is not regulated and there is a wide range of differing quality in probate research. Due to this the Heir Hunters Association was established in 2009 to educate new researchers to cope with increased demand.
An increasing number of heirs “self-claim” but are generally oblivious to legal obligations when faced with tracing others that may be entitled to share in a BV estate. This is because, contrary to popular belief, claiming an estate does not mean all the money is yours.
There is a drive to encourage more people to make a Will for the reasons stated above. BV estates cost money to administer, and where “Heir Hunters” become involved the commission’s payable can run to thousands. Where you have no family you can make a Will to benefit friends and/or charities if you wish.
Where you do have family you should never leave the matter to chance. A Will is as important as your life insurance policy – it means your loved ones are protected and provided for after your death.