Inheritance Without Heirs: Exploring why estates get passed to the Crown

If someone dies without making a Will, they are said to die intestate. If they do not have any living relatives, then it is the law that their estate will go to the Crown. Do you have a Will or could your estate pass to the Crown?

The Rules of Intestacy state that if there is no valid will any estate will pass to a spouse and/or close relatives. However some loved ones are not included on this list, such as stepchildren and cohabiting partners.

The Rules of Intestacy

Those entitled to inherit when someone does not leave a Will are as follows:

  • Spouse or civil partner
  • Children
  • Grandchildren, or their children
  • Parents
  • Siblings or their children
  • Half-siblings or their children
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and uncles or their children
  • Half-aunts and uncles or their children
  • The Crown

If someone leaves both a spouse and children, then their estate may be split between them. This is dependent upon the size of the estate. The first £270,000 of the net estate and all of the deceased’s personal possessions are left to the spouse. The remainder of the net estate is split in half. The spouse receives one half and the deceased’s children share the other half equally.

Where the deceased leaves neither a spouse nor children, then the next group of relatives in order of priority is entitled to inherit.

The estate will generally be administered by someone who is inheriting under the Rules of Intestacy.

When there are no surviving relatives

If there are no relatives to inherit, then the estate is deemed to be ‘bona vacantia’ or without an owner and it will pass to the Crown. It will initially be notified to the Bona Vacantia Division, administered by the Treasury Solicitor on behalf of the Crown.

The Bona Vacantia Division will wind up the estate then hold the funds for twelve years. During this time it is possible for those who believe they may be entitled to receive money from the estate to bring a claim. For example, if the deceased lived with someone or maintained someone during their lifetime, that person may be able to make a claim.

Avoiding bona vacantia

Ensuring your estate does not pass to the Crown can easily be done by making a valid Will. You can choose who you would like to benefit from your estate and include those who would not receive anything under the Rules of Intestacy. These may be people such as cohabiting partners or close friends.

You can also choose to leave money to charity if you wish. In some circumstances, you can reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax payable by doing this.

Leaving a valid Will also reduces the likelihood of a dispute arising after your death. Your loved ones know what your wishes were and whom you would like to inherit. In this case they are less likely to make a legal claim.

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