The idea that the Crown might inherit everything you have worked so hard for during your lifetime might seem far-fetched – but with the Government’s unclaimed estates list now at 8,910 entries, this really can and does happen.
Perhaps surprisingly, the list isn’t solely comprised of elderly people who have simply lost much of their family through the years – 3 entries were born in the 1990s, 6 were born in the 1980s and 31 were born in the 1970s. So how does an estate end up on the list?
When someone dies, their estate passes according to their Will or in the absence of a Will, according to the rules of intestacy. If the person had known blood relatives, Personal Representatives will be appointed to distribute the Deceased’s assets according to the rules. However, if there is no Will and no known blood relatives, the Government’s Bona Vacantia Division (meaning ‘unclaimed goods’) administers the estate.
ONS figures indicate that 533,253 deaths were registered in England and Wales in 2017 but it is thought around two-thirds died without making a Will. When property passes by intestacy, it can be difficult to track down the rightful heirs, particularly when there are no close relatives and the prospective beneficiaries are distant half-cousins.
A growing number of probate researches – colloquially referred to as heir hunters – have stepped in to tackle the problem, making a full time job out of tracing long lost relatives. Where a relative is found, the Government pays interest on the estate’s value for claims made within 12 years of death.
If no relatives are traced after 12 years, the Crown or the duchies of Cornwall or Lancaster become the owners. However, it is still possible to claim part of the estate for up to 30 years following death, without any interest being paid.
Probate researchers use a number of tools to locate prospective beneficiaries, such as a search of the electoral roll and of births, marriages and deaths. However nowadays the rise of social media has made tracking people down far easier – especially when they have a unique name.
Whilst the thought of being heir to a secret fortune is exciting, it does bring home the importance of making a Will. Many people are surprised to learn that the intestacy rules do not work the way they expected – for example, a spouse does not automatically inherit the entire estate if there are children and a cohabitee inherits nothing.
A Will gives you the opportunity to set out who should benefit from your assets and deal with a range of other matters such as funeral wishes, guardianship of minor children and care of the family’s pets. Importantly, a Will can and should also specify what should happen if none of your beneficiaries inherit. Many people include a disaster clause which specifies that if their estate cannot pass to their choice of beneficiaries (for example because the beneficiaries predeceased them leaving no children of their own) it should go to their choice of charity. This simple clause ensures that in the very worst case scenario, it is still not the Crown that stands to benefit.
Get in touch with our Later Life Planning department to find out more about making a Will. Call Debbie on 0151 928 6544 or 01704 532890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org