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Bona Vacantia Guide to Ownerless Property and Assets

Bona Vacantia explained simply

Bona Vacantia are old-fashioned legal words but still in use. The Latin phrase roughly translated means ‘empty goods’. 

When someone has died intestate, the term is used to mean ‘ownerless property’, because there is no valid will and there is no surviving spouse or civil partner and there are no surviving blood related relatives (formally stated as ‘all blood lines have been exhausted to determine division of the assets’). In such a case, anything that remains undistributed is deemed to be Bona Vacantia and passes to the Crown.

What happens to freehold land?

What happens to freehold land?

The feudal term “escheat” is used where there are no heirs to freehold land. This will be managed by the Crown Estate where the land is in England and Wales unless in Cornwall or Lancaster when the appropriate Duchy will administer the process. The land will revert to the Crown or relevant Duchy as the ultimate owner of all land.

Further information on Bona Vacantia

  1. when the Treasury Solicitor disclaims the land which had belonged to a dissolved company;
  2. a liquidator disclaims the land which belonged to the company they are responsible for winding up;
  3. a trustee in bankruptcy or the official Receiver disclaims freehold land which has belonged to an individual; or
  4. an overseas company is dissolved where they had owned freehold land in England and Wales.

In limited situations where a company has been dissolved then a Bona Vacantia waiver letter can be obtained to restore the company. This confirms the Treasury Solicitor does not object to its restoration and will release any assets back from the Crown to the company once restored.

Anyone who believes they are entitled to receive the assets of the person who has died leaving Bona Vacantia can make a claim.. This includes a person entitled under an intestacy ( see link to Rules of Intestacy) and anyone who is administering the estate of someone who was entitled under the Intestacy. The person whose estate they are administering must have died after the person whose estate is unclaimed. If the claim is successful, such assets will pass into the estate of the person who has now died and be distributed either under their Will or Intestacy. A claim can be made personally or by a legal representative.

The BVD publishes an updated list every day of the estates they are dealing with under Bona Vacantia. They aim to update the information within 5 working days of notice of any potential estate that falls with Bona Vacantia. 

Names are removed from the list when:

  • The time limit to submit a claim has expired 
  • A valid claimant has come forward
  • A valid WIll has been discover
  • The estate has been found to be insolvent, meaning there is no money left to pay out to claimants, whether valid or not.

This is part of the government legal department and is responsible for administering unclaimed estates on behalf of the Crown.

We strongly recommend that anyone who feels that they may be the rightful heir of an unclaimed estate should use a solicitor who is specialised and has experience of this process.  There are strict and demanding requirements to be able to prove a claim as follows:  

  • Claims made up to 12 years from the completion of administration of the estate of the person leaving Bona Vacantia include interest. 
  • A claim can be made up to a maximum of 30 years from the date of death if this is later, provided the claim is properly and fully documented within that time period. There is no discretion to extend this time limit. Such payments will not carry interest.
  1. The first step is to prepare a complete family tree and send this to the BVD showing how you are related to the person. This needs to be as complete as possible including full names (married and maiden names if appropriate) dates of birth, marriage and death of every individual included in the family tree and entitled in priority under the Intestacy Rules
  2. The BVD will then ask you to provide documentary evidence to support your claim including birth, marriage and death certificates, ID paperwork (not a driver’s licence from abroad, a mobile phone or credit or store card bill), and any explanation in full where no such paperwork exists. Photocopies won’t be accepted, so either official copies will need to be applied for if you are making a claim or you will be asked to provide copies of the originals certified by a suitable person. A solicitor can provide documents to the BVD in a form that they will accept to avoid the risk of sending original documents that may be lost.  
  3. Failure to send in the right documents will result in the claim being returned and cause delays and possibly rejection of your claim. You would then need to start all over again as copies would not be kept at the BVD. If, in the meantime, someone else makes a properly and fully  documented claim, their claim will be considered first. Also, if someone higher up the order of priority under the Rules of Intestacy, sends in a claim after yours, their claim will always be considered first.
  4. Documents issued in the UK can be applied for from General Register Office in Merseyside ( certificates in England and Wales) or Register General in Edinburgh (certificates in Scotland) or General Register Office in Roscommon, ( certificates in Northern Ireland pre 1922) and Register General for Northern Ireland in Belfast (post 1922). 
  5. Documents  and certificates issued outside the UK will need to be obtained from the relevant authorities and offices as appropriate. If these are not issued in English,  a properly certified English translation must be provided along with the official certificate. Again a solicitor should be able to help you.
  6. All the paperwork is required to show to the BVD that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ the money should be paid out to you rather than the Crown. If you satisfy the BVD of your claim you will be paid. 
  7. If the claim is accepted by the BVD then they will contact you telling you the value of the Estate and asking for details of who will act as the Estate’s administrator if you haven’t already informed them. They will then release the money in a way determined by the circumstances and the value of the estate itself. 

BVD will only release information about the value of the estate, or details about its assets and liabilities, to a successful claimant or their representative.

The procedure depends on whether or not the Treasury Solicitor has already obtained the Grant of Letters of Administration

  1. If they have the Grant, the Treasury Solicitor will send you a copy of the estate accounts. You will be asked to sign your agreement to them and return them to the Treasury Solicitor,  together with an indemnity which releases the Treasury Solicitor from any further legal responsibility for the administration of the estate. They will then send you the money for distribution either entirely to yourself as a sole person entitled, or, if others are equally entitled to yourself, then for you to distribute equally between all the entitled people. It will be your responsibility to deal with the Estate correctly and you will have personal liability for wrongly distributing it without making enquiries for other entitled creditors and beneficiaries. . 
  2. If no Grant of Letters of Administration has yet been obtained, the Treasury Solicitor will supply you with all the information about assets and liabilities that you will need to apply for the Grant. Once you have the Grant, you need to send a sealed office copy to the Treasury Solicitor and they will close their file. 


In either case, if someone comes forward to the BVD seeking to prove their entitlement to part or all of the estate, either as a valid creditor of the Estate or to Bona Vacantia, the Treasury Solicitor will refer them to you as administrator responsible for correctly administering the Estate.

The BVD will always require you to apply for the Grant of Letters of Administration. To enable you to do this they will send you the notice of revocation of any Grant they have already had issued to them together with details of the assets and liabilities to support your own application. They will then send out the money to you as outlined  at point 2 above.

Not all estates are administered by the BVD. If the Estate is administered by someone else. The Treasury Solicitor will not have collected any assets. .

If you make a claim with all the necessary paperwork, the BVD will write and tell you it has no interest in the Estate and return your claim papers to you. They will also inform you who referred the Estate to them. They will also return the referral papers to the original referrer. They will not have any further involvement.

It is then up to you, as the claimant, to contact the referrer or the person named on the death certificate (as the informant who registered the death) to pursue your claim with them directly.

Claims can be made personally or using a solicitor.

A claim may be made either by the person who thinks they themselves are entitled or by someone administering the estate of someone who survived the intestate person but has since died without making a claim. 

Due to the complexity of the process and level of detailed information needed for a successful claim, it is always best to seek the advice of a solicitor who has specialist experience of the rules and procedure for claiming Bona Vacantia.

Most of us would prefer that our hard earned money and assets do not go to the state after our deaths. This is true, however it might happen – as money assets, property or in the form of taxes that might otherwise be avoidable.

For this reason it is essential to make sure you have a valid and up-to-date Will in place. This ensures the people you choose, inherit from you. As our personal and financial circumstances change during our lifetimes, it is important to review the content of our Wills regularly (about once a year is recommended). 

If the estate you will leave is large enough, It is also important to make sure that you look at the impact Inheritance Tax might have when you die. With proper planning and advice it may be possible to reduce or even eliminate the need to pay Inheritance Tax. There are various ways to do this that are completely legal and ethical. 

Bona Vacantia FAQs

All assets are included as Bona Vacantia where they form part of an Intestate person’s estate.

If there is no individual who successfully claims Bona Vacantia, it will pass to the Crown. Usually the BVD will either disclaim or sell bona vacantia and for full market value The BVD is unlikely to sell privately to anyone. Any sale is usually at a public auction.

Yes, Bona Vacantia applies to each location in the same way and manner.