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Claiming an “unclaimed” estate

Source: HM Revenue & Customs | | 14/11/2017

There are special rules that govern how assets are divided if a person dies without making a will. If this happens your assets are passed on to family members in accordance with a set legal formula. This can result in a distribution of assets that would not be in keeping with your final wishes, and can be especially problematic for cohabitees (a couple who live together but are not married and have not entered into a civil partnership).

However, if someone dies without a will and there are no known family members, their property passes to the Crown as ownerless property. This is known as ‘bona vacantia’, which literally means vacant goods and by law this property (including money and other personal possessions) passes to the Crown. The bodies that deal with bona vacantia claims vary across the United Kingdom, but they all ultimately represent the Crown.

It is possible to make a claim on the estate under the following circumstances:

  • If there’s no will, the person’s spouse or civil partner and then any children have first claim to the estate
  • if there’s no spouse or child, anyone descended from a grandparent of the person is entitled to a share in the estate
  • if you’re related by marriage you have no entitlement.

It is also possible for someone who lived with the deceased (such as a partner), to apply for a grant from the deceased person’s estate.

Planning note

We would strongly recommend that readers make a will to ensure that assets are divided amongst family, friends and charities in accordance with your wishes.

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