You may have heard the term ‘bona vacantia’ in relation to probate. But what exactly does it mean? In the simplest terms, bona vacantia is a part of the Treasury Solicitor’s department, and it manages unclaimed estates. That could be the estates of individuals, or of companies that are liquidated or wound up. In the eyes of the Treasury department, both of these are treated in the same way, although there are often more assets and account to look at when it comes to a business.
Company directors may not be aware that if they apply for their company to be wound up or liquidated and removed from Companies House, then anything left over can indeed be claimed by the bona vacantia department. Sometimes directors forget about old accounts, for example, and if these are left open when the company has been dissolved then anything left within them can then be claimed by the bona vacantia department. These company assets can include bank accounts, land (in England and Wales), trademarks and copyrights, patents, mortgage benefits, intellectual property, and the benefits of any agreements that have been set up, amongst other things.
And if you realise that these assets have been forgotten about, there is no guarantee that you will get any of it back again. The Treasury Solicitor isn’t set up to correct mistakes or work around any company director’s negligence.
So what happens to the estates once they have been claimed by the bona vacantia department? One option is that they can be bought back by anyone with a claim to them. This is fairly unusual, however – there is a period of research and due diligence that has to take place so that, as far as anyone knows, the estate is not to be left to anyone. The usual option for what happens once the estate is claimed by the bona vacantia department is that it is added to the accounts of the Treasury department.
Have you ever wondered what the chances are of a wealthy long lost relative leaving you a small fortune? Here’s a collection of facts about unclaimed estates, inheritance and heir hunters.
In Britain around 2 thirds of people die without making a will.
There are around 20,000 unclaimed estates in the UK and 2,000 more join the register each year.
Unclaimed estate details are public records; you can access the information by searching the Bona Vacantia (the ownerless goods list).
You can search online for all unclaimed estates since 1 Jan 1997, when records were computerised.
The latest unclaimed estates are published every Wednesday at midnight.
£21m was paid out by the Treasury in 2010 to long-lost heirs.
If the estate is not claimed within 12 years, it goes to the Treasury and becomes the property of the Crown.
It is still possible to claim some part of the estate for up to 30 years after the death.
In 2011 the Treasury Solicitor took in £18m from those who had not made a will.
Since December 2007 the values of estates are no longer published to discourage fraud against any assets.
Around 500,000 Brits benefit from an inheritance through heir hunting firms every year. Professional heir hunters find the rightful beneficiaries of the estates held by the treasury and charge a finder’s fee for their efforts.
The average estate value is £67,500.
The average finder’s fee charged is 20% of the inheritance.
Many people throw away letters, and ignore phone calls saying they are entitled to a share of an unclaimed estate because they think they are scams.
The BBC program Heir Hunters was first aired on 4 June 2007 and is now in its 6th series. It attracts around 1.7million viewers.
The probate genealogists featured on the show were heavily criticised in a case involving Jessica Ellacott. The 17 year old student expected to receive a share of £175,000 inheritance from a cousin twice removed but the firm wanted to charge a third of her pay-out, plus VAT. – Daily Mail, This is Money, BBC 'bounty hunters' row.
Which.co.uk slates one firm who are charging as much as 40% plus VAT.
Market research company Opinium found that Brits could be handing over as much as £10 million a year to heir locater firms.