The Unclaimed Millions - You could be the beneficiary of an unclaimed estate and have no idea
A long lost relative leaving you millions of pounds - It sounds like the plot from a Hollywood film, but it might not be as far fetched as it first seems.
With the recent property boom and families becoming more and more scattered, an increasing number of people are dying with significant assets, no will in place, and no close relatives to leave their fortune to.
At any one time, there are around 15,000 unclaimed estates in England and Wales, ranging in value from a few thousand pounds to millions. In this post, we take a look at the rules surrounding unclaimed estates, and show you how you can track down any potential windfall from your (not so) nearest and dearest.
Dying with no next of kin
Each year, millions of people die without a will in place. When this happens, their estate is distributed according to intestacy guidelines – passing down to their next of kin and blood relatives in accordance with strict guidelines.
However, in some cases, the deceased doesn’t have any known next of kin, and the estate falls into the hands of the Treasury, under the responsibility of a department known as the Bona Vacantia.
The Bona Vacantia
The Bona Vacantia is responsible for trying to find heirs for unclaimed estates. As part of this process, the Bona Vacantia publishes details of these unclaimed estates on its website for download every week.
It also takes steps to try and locate the legal heirs, by advertising in the press looking for relatives, and those with information about the deceased.
If, after 12 years, no heir has been found, then the value of the estate goes back to the treasury – although it is possible for this term to be extended by up to 35 years in some circumstances.
Finding your fortune
In reality, finding and claiming on an estate is a complex, time-consuming process, which can be very costly – but it isn’t impossible.
Name changes, marriages, complex relationships and family relationships change throughout the generations, so if you’re planning on starting a search, it’s important to do some thorough research.
Having a thoroughly researched family tree is the best place to start, so you’ve got a clear idea of all your blood relatives, and any links you have to them. This can be a huge undertaking in its own right.
Start this process at your own risk - you’re likely to unearth all sorts of relatives you didn’t know you had, in countries across the world, in addition to some skeletons and scandals you may not be prepared for!
You can then search all the names on the current Bona Vacantia list (and similar lists in any other countries), to see if there’s anyone from your family tree with an unclaimed estate.
Making a claim
Unfortunately, finding the estate is only half the battle – claiming it can be even more difficult.
You can make a claim with Bona Vacantia directly, but be prepared to back it up with the relevant documentation, including your birth, death and marriage certificates.
Assuming your claim is accepted, it’s likely that you’ll be appointed as the administrator of the estate, meaning that you’ll be responsible for tracking down all the other living relatives with a claim. You’ll have to follow the chain of relatives, from spouses and children, down to grandparents, uncles, nephews and even half-siblings.
This can be a huge job, and many people choose to get professional help from solicitors and professional heir hunters – which can have a significant impact on the value of the overall estate.
Real world estates
Ok, so finding and claiming an estate from a long lost relative might be a lot of work, but there’s always a chance it might be worth it.
Take the case of Roman Blum – a Polish holocaust survivor and property magnate who left behind a £25 million fortune when he died in New York in 2012, with no heirs. Since then, more than 400 people have tried to claim the estate, but at the time of writing, no one has been successful.
Maybe it’s time to trace back your ancestry and to look for some Polish connections!
Want to know more about any aspect of wills, inheritance or probate? Download our FREE Ultimate Guide to Wills & Probate today.