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What is the Bona Vacantia List

What is the Bona Vacantia List

The Bona Vacantia is a list of unclaimed estates in England—i.e. estates where someone has died without a will and who has no known family.

Bona Vacantia is a Latin term which means vacant goods. By law, ownerless property passes to the Crown though heir hunting firms will often seek out heirs so that entitled beneficiaries inherit what is rightfully theirs.

The treasury solicitor acts on the Crown’s behalf to administer the estates of those who die without leaving a will (also called dying intestate) and who don’t have entitled blood relatives. In many cases, however, there will be relatives (distant) or not who are entitled and the list of unclaimed estates in England is updated on a regular basis (every working day).

Government’s legal department

The Bona Vacantia list is part of the Government’s Legal Department.

The list of unclaimed estates is an CSV format—i.e. comma separated values so you can search using CTRL+F. There is roughly a 30-year time limit on the estates listed there.

Probate genealogy firms (sometimes called heir hunters) often use the Bona Vacantia list to trace heirs to an estate. If an estate comes up, a firm will try to find the nearest relatives of the deceased. Often, they will find people who didn’t know or who had only a limited acquaintance to their relative, and their entitlement to that person’s estate comes as a surprise (a pleasant one!).

Invalid wills

Why do estates end up on the Bona Vacantia list? Various reasons come up for people not wiring wills. It might be because someone didn’t get round to writing one. Many people view such an activity as morbid and put it off. Or occasionally, a will becomes invalid because a person’s named heirs pre-decease them.

If someone’s spouse or partner dies before them and the couple had no children, the surviving partner may believe writing a will isn’t worthwhile. Up until very recently, many people didn’t write wills because it they didn’t believe they owned enough possessions to do so, but we often underestimate the value of what we have, especially if we own property.

Please note—the list of unclaimed estates in England doesn’t include the counties of Cornwall and Lancashire, as these are dealt with the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster. Although unclaimed estates can pass to them, the current practice for both is to donate any unclaimed assets to charities.