Bona Vacantia and Escheat
What is Bona Vacantia?
If someone dies intestate (without a will) and without known kin, their property (of any kind, including land, buildings and money) passes to the Crown as bona vacantia (ownerless property). If a dissolved company still owns assets (including property and cash balances) at its dissolution, these also pass to the Crown as bona vacantia where they are not held on trust.
What is Escheat?
Where there is a bankruptcy or a winding up of a company, property is sometimes disclaimed (given up) if it is thought to be onerous. If the property disclaimed is freehold land, the property will normally escheat (return) to the Crown Estate or the Royal Duchies depending on where the freehold property is situated. Freehold property belonging to an overseas dissolved company may also escheat to the Crown.
You will either be seeking to contact us because you have disclaimed freehold property or freehold property belonging to a dissolved foreign company, or you will have been informed by a professional that the property you are interested in is subject to escheat.
- If the last known address of the person who died, or the last registered address of the dissolved company, is within the County Palatine (largely Lancashire and parts of Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Cumbria) the Crown is represented by The Solicitor for the Affairs of the Duchy of Lancaster. If the relevant address is within the County of Cornwall (including The Isles of Scilly) the Crown is represented by The Solicitor in the Affairs of the Duchy of Cornwall.
- If the Duchies do not have jurisdiction, you will need to contact the Treasury Solicitor who represents the Crown in bona vacantia matters for the majority of England and Wales.
- It is the location of the escheat property that is relevant for jurisdiction purposes.
- If the property is within the County Palatine (largely Lancashire and parts of Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Cumbria) the Crown is represented by The Queen in Right of Her Duchy of Lancaster. If the relevant address is within the County of Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly) the Crown is represented by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall.
- If the property falls outside the County Palatine or Cornwall, you should contact Burges Salmon who administer escheat matters for the Crown Estate.
To find out whether the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall may have authority over the estate, dissolved company or escheat property you are interested in, search for the postcode of the relevant address using the buttons below.
If the Duchies do have jurisdiction, please click on the relevant link to find out what you need to do next.
Procedures for the administration of bona vacantia
The Duchies’ procedures for the administration of bona vacantia are very similar to those of the Treasury Solicitor.
Where we are notified of individuals with assets who may have died without a will or obvious family, we make enquiries based on the information we hold to look for kin. If kin are found, we look to hand over administration of the estate to them.
If a company is dissolved we support the restoration of the company where possible. Otherwise we will look to sell the assets of dissolved companies at market value subject to a minimum price and payment of costs incurred.
The Duchies are not responsible for any liabilities attaching to any dissolved company, nor for administering insolvent estates (where the estate liabilities exceed the estate assets).
The balance of bona vacantia assets administered by the Duchies, after payment of costs, are paid into registered charities set up by the Duchies.
If you have
- read this page,
- checked the relevant postcode using our boundary checker documents for Deceased Individuals, Dissolved Companies or Escheat to confirm that the estate, dissolved company or escheat property you are interested in falls within the jurisdiction of the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall,
- read and answered the relevant questions on our Deceased Individuals, Dissolved Companies or Escheat webpages, and
- not found an answer to your query or require further clarification.
Get in touch:
For bona vacantia enquiries except for real property (land and buildings)
For bona vacantia enquiries about real property (land and buildings)
For all escheat enquiries
If you do not have access to email write to the address below including the requested information and marking your letter Bona Vacantia (not real property) Enquiry, Bona Vacantia Property Enquiry or Escheat Enquiry as appropriate.
Duchy of Lancaster or
Duchy of Cornwall (as appropriate)
Farrer & Co
66 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP