Family Financial Planning and Rise in ‘Heir Hunters’ Cause 60 Per Cent Drop in Unclaimed Estate Income

17 July 2015 

Growing awareness of the need to provide for family and increasing activity by 'heir hunters' has seen the value of ownerless assets fall by sixty per cent in the space of two years.

Research by one of the country's leading law firms has found that individuals who died without making a will or having any heirs left estates worth £15.4 million in 2014, down from £38.5 million in 2012.

Under laws dating back to medieval times, all ownerless assets in England and Wales – which are known as ‘bona vacantia’ – either pass to the Treasury on behalf of the Crown or to the duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster if related deaths occurred within their boundaries.

The study was conducted by JMW Solicitors, which said that the findings bore out a rise in the number of people whom it had dealt with choosing to make a will.

Tasnim Khalid, a Senior Associate in the firm's Private Client department, suggested that they wanted to avoid relatives having to deal with the problems of intestacy and the prospect of family feuds.

"Bona vacantia is only declared in circumstances in which all possible avenues to find potential heirs have been exhausted and so is exceptionally rare.

"However, we have discovered that the sums going to the Treasury and the two duchies each year are still very considerable. They are not necessarily made up of big estates but the assets of many individual cases of relatively small value.

"That such income has fallen is due in part to the appreciation of the difficulties created by not making a will. People want to be able to look after their loved ones when they die and a will provides some certainty about how exactly their estates will be divided up.

“It is also important to keep a will updated, so that beneficiaries and executors know where it is and to take account of any intended heirs not surviving the person making it.

“If not, it means assets stand to be collected by bodies such as the Treasury or claimed by relatives who may never have been intended to benefit.”

JMW found that income due to the Duchy of Lancaster fell by three-quarters to £842,000 in the space of the two years to last March, while the drop was even more pronounced in the Duchy of Cornwall. It saw its bona vacantia proceeds fall from £335,000 to £39,000 in just 12 months.

Figures from the Crown Nominee's Account, which is operated by the Treasury Solicitor, revealed that in two years its share of ownerless estate income had shrunk from £33.514 million to £14.5 million.

It also revealed that further falls were likely in the coming years due to more people were opting to make a will and greater publicity about estates which it was dealing with.

Ms Khalid said that she and her colleagues had seen a trebling in number of wills completed between 2010 and the end of 2014.

Even so, figures published at the end of last year by the Will Aid campaign indicated that less than half of adults in England and Wales claimed to have made a will.



For more information:

Samantha Meakin

0161 828 1981

Note to Editors

JMW Solicitors LLP is one of the leading Manchester law firms and offers a broad range of legal services to both commercial and private clients.  We are committed to providing legal services in a cost effective and timely manner.

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