Unclaimed Estates and How Heir Hunting Works
It is no surprise that a topic likeunclaimed estateshas produced a popularterrestrial daytime television programme. This legal peculiarity contains all of thekey elements of any good drama; a life story with twists and intrigue and anunexpected financial reward at the end. With almost 2,000,000 people tuning in toBBC1s Heir Hunters on a daily basis the truth is that unclaimed estates is a subjectthat has captivated the viewing public and prompted many to start tracing theirgenealogy (just in case!).It is estimated that there are approximately 20,000, Unclaimed Estates in the UK. The list is updated at midnight every Wednesday by a government departmentcalled Bona Vacantia. Their website publishes a list of the unclaimed estates whichhave emerged each week. On average there are a few dozen new estatesappearing on a weekly basis with about 2,000 estates coming to light every year.In the case of an unclaimed estate there is no will and, seemingly, no relatives. The person has died with no apparent family connections. When thesecircumstances occur the estate is referred to as Bona Vacantia which is a Latinterm that literally translated means ownerless goods. In the absence of familymembers the government will process the administration. Ultimately, if norelatives or beneficiaries are found, the estate will pass to the Crown or the Duchyof Lancaster or Cornwall.A whole industry has grown up around the issue and there are many so-called Heirhunting firms such as Fraser and Fraser, Hoopers, Celtic Research and Heir tracethat make a business out of hunting out beneficiaries entitled to unclaimedestates. Of course, these firms will take a large slice of any inheritance involved. Itis estimated that commissions involved may be as much as 40%. The published list of unclaimed estates only contains estates dating back to January 1
1997. There are paper records kept on estates before this date The process is simply one of genealogy, which brings to mind another popular BBCprogramme, Who Do You Think You Are?. Unlike the celebrities featured in Who Do You Think You Are?, a member of the public attempting to unearth an as-yet-unknown wealthy ancestor will not benefit from a team of BBC researchers. Theprocess, therefore, can be arduous, and probably fruitless.However, those of you wishing to look into your familys past may wish to bear inmind that Bona Vacantias list of unclaimed estates is available for free at the BonaVacantia website. Who knows… perhaps your family tree with reveal a long lostmember of the family, with stories and connections you never imagined, not tomention an estate waiting to be claimed.Alternatively, you could ask a firm of heir hunters to do the leg-work. They do not,as a rule, accept instructions direct from the public, so you may need to seekadvice from a probate solicitor.